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Saturday, April 2, 2005
Updated: April 4, 9:02 PM ET
What baseball needs: The best

By Peter Gammons
Special to

April 2

In many ways, it's a waste of the rivalry to have the Yankees playing the Red Sox the first week of April. Now that 1918 is out of the equation, some of the urgency and antiphonal passion is removed, at least until the season has some definition or, more likely, until one of the two teams is facing some form of elimination.

The Red Sox won six of the seven meetings between them last April, finished second, were within a Tony Clark bounce of elimination … only to perform the indelible miracle. In April, 2002, Boston won two out of three – one on the arm of Darren Oliver – and in 2001 they split six games in the first month, which pretty much tells you that games pick up speed at each equinox.

But this year, baseball needs to remind us about the Red Sox and Yankees, and recount every silly thing said about Alex Rodriguez and Curt Schilling.

• Baseball needs to put BALCO, Jose Canseco, the congressional hearings, "I am not here to talk about the past," Guadalajara medical school, Johnny (morphing into Paris) Damon and girlfriends' autobiographies onto Page 2 and get Derek Jeter, Jason Varitek, Mariano Rivera and David Ortiz back on the fold pages of newspapers and SportsCenter teasers.

Baseball needs another magical run from Ichiro.

• Baseball needs Junior Griffey to be healthy and Ichiro to make a run at .400.

• It needs Kerry Wood and Mark Prior to make 65 starts and have the Cubs in the race with the Cardinals, as well as 65-70 starts from two other pairs: John Smoltz and Tim Hudson as well as A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett, which would pretty much assure a sun-belt race.

• It needs Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes and Pedro Martinez to bring the Mets back into the high life, again.

• It needs a summer of love for the Washington Nationals, not to mention an Oriole revival led by Miguel Tejada, Melvin Mora and Sammy Sosa that gives The Beltway two baseball headlines a day.

• It needs Albert Pujols, the man who did not strike out this spring.

• It needs Joe Mauer, Miguel Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, Mark Teixeira, Adam Dunn and Wright. It needs Carl Crawford and the next generation to become the face of the game, while Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Schilling, et al continue to defy age.

• It needs a few of its sluggers – Troy Glaus, Dunn, A-Rod, Teixeira, Pujols for a start – to hit 50 home runs and prove it can be done in a (theoretically) chemical-free era.

• It needs Juan Pierre, Jose Reyes, Khalil Greene, Bobby Crosby and Michael Young.

• It needs the Indians, Tigers and White Sox to run at the Twins and the A's, Rangers and Mariners to breathe down the necks of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It needs the NL West to be a serious three-team California heat. It needs Jimmy Fallon to have Drew Barrymore and the Red Sox.

Be it 1919 or 1994, baseball has always survived because of the game, the players and the ties that bind generations to franchises. Barry Bonds is going past Babe Ruth, get over it. The game will move on because it always does.

Now, those of us who make predictions know they are usually invalid by May because of injuries or the reality that the past does not always translate to the future. There are a few of us at that picked the Twins to win it all, which requires explanation.

Will the Twins be the best team in the American League during the regular season? Probably not, judging by wins. The Yankees, Red Sox and Angels likely will have more wins at the end of September. But had Joe Mauer been catching last October, they would have beaten the Yankees. Mauer and Justin Morneau can give Minnesota the mid-lineup thunder it has lacked. Jason Bartlett and Michael Cuddyer may outperform or equal Cristian Guzman and Corey Koskie. Then get into the playoffs with Johan Santana, Brad Radke and Joe Mays (or Scott Baker) in the rotation and Joe Nathan set up by Juan Rincon, J.C. Romero, Kyle Lohse, Jesse Crain, J.D. Durbin and they could have the deepest power bullpen in baseball.

In other words, the Twins could win it all. So could the Yankees and Red Sox (Wade Miller?) if their pitching is healthy in October, as well as the Angels and someone else out of the AL that will turn coal into diamonds. The Cardinals, with Mark Mulder, Chris Carpenter and a healthy Matt Morris, can win it all. So can the Cubs, Braves, Marlins and Giants if Bonds can put distractions and the paparazzi out of mind.

A World Series with the Twins against the Marlins or Braves would not be good television in terms of ratings, not like having New York, Chicago, Boston or San Francisco. But this year, what baseball and television wants isn't necessarily what baseball needs.

In keeping with the notion that someone cares what we predict, here are a few awards:


David Ortiz

American League: David Ortiz. One could make a compelling argument for him each of the last two years based not on statistical formulas, but what an impact he has had carrying the Red Sox through good times and bad times. He is coming into his prime in a ballpark he turns into his private yard, but he is also going to need Kevin Millar to produce in the five-hole behind him. The rest of the nominees: Alex Rodriguez, a healthy Garret Anderson, Mark Teixeira, Hideki Matsui, Eric Chavez, Manny Ramirez, Victor Martinez and Joe Mauer.

National League: Nomar Garciaparra. He altered his training and looks 25 again, not to mention he's drained the residue from his unhappy departure from Boston out of his system and ready to become the face of the Cubs. Other nominees: Albert Pujols, Aramis Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera, Andruw Jones (watch out above!), Jim Thome, Adam Dunn and Troy Glaus.


American League: Randy Johnson, reveling in runs. Other nominees: Johan Santana, Rich Harden, Curt Schilling, Roy Halladay, Jeremy Bonderman and, if he throws as he did this spring not like he did last season, Bartolo Colon.

Pedro Martinez

National League: This is going to be fun because the league is awash in potential winners. But this guess is Pedro Martinez if the Mets bullpen doesn't implode around him. Other nominees: Jason Schmidt, John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Carlos Zambrano, A.J. Burnett, Mark Mulder.


American League: Keeping it in the same Long Beach State dorm room, Mariners CF Jeremy Reed, succeeding Bobby (Versace) Crosby. Toronto's Gabe Gross had a great spring, has a picture-perfect swing with developed loft and knows the strike zone. Russ Adams and Jason Bartlett are players and it may take Dallas McPherson -- who struck out 191 times last year -- some time to get his feet on the ground. Nick Swisher will be right there. Oh, yes. Huston Street may be Oakland's closer by Aug. 1. And then there's Scott Kazmir.

National League: There's something about J.J. Hardy's energy and glove that can do for the Brewers what Greene did for the Padres. But this may be an open race: Houston outfielders Luke Scott and Willy Taveras (both acquired from the Indians for Jeriome Robertson) had good springs. Colorado has left-hander Jeff Francis, third baseman Garrett Atkins and shortstop Clint Barmes and the Phillies are relying on right-hander Gavin Floyd.


1. Aaron Boone.
2. Paul Byrd. He might win 16 games for the Angels.
3. Matt Morris. His shoulder is free again after a few years of ignoring pain.
4. Roy Halladay. He's taken time to rest after too many pitches in two years.
5. Magglio Ordonez. The miracle of Austrian medicine.
6. Gil Meche. He has 20 win stuff, again.
7. Austin Kearns. One of the best all-around outfielders in the NL.
8. Junior Griffey.
9. Trot Nixon ... 35 homers.
10. Pat Burrell.
11. Brad Penny.
12. Andy Pettitte.


1. Hideki Matsui. Only because he's never been given credit for being as good as opposing players know he is and he'll keep getting better.
2. Jeremy Bonderman
3. Danny Haren
4. Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera. Ray Miller taught them changeups, they have great stuff and the Red Sox staff thought Cabrera might have been the best pitcher they saw all spring.
5. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, all things being healthy.
6. Coco Crisp. Not just a runner. He can hit.
7. Carl Crawford. This is the year the home runs begin to come.
8. B.J. Ryan. AL's best left-handed reliever?
9. Bobby Madritsch. A long way from Winnipeg.
10. Jose Reyes.
11. Brandon League.
12. Jimmy Rollins. I'll buy in with the Phillies on this one.
13. Adam LaRoche. Check the second-half OPS (.944).
14. Brian Schneider. Underrated, period.
15. Chase Utley. Leave him alone.
16. Chad Cordero and Luis Ayala, the Nats' closing pair.
17. Jayson Werth.


1. Ezequiel Astacio, RHP, Astros. Likely the fifth starter by April 20.
2. Scott Baker, RHP, Twins
3. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners
4. Jon Papelbon, RHP, Red Sox
5. Andy Marte, 3B-OF, Braves
6. Matt Cain, RHP, Giants
7. Zach Duke, LHP, Pirates
8. Angel Guzman, RHP, Cubs
9. Conor Jackson, 1B, Diamondbacks
10. Sergio Santos, SS, Diamondbacks
11. Casey Kotchman, 1B, Angels
12. Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers
13. and 14. B.J. Upton, SS, and Delmon Young, OF, Devil Rays
15. Jeff Niemann, RHP, Devil Rays
16. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers
17. Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Indians
18. Brandon McCarthy, RHP, White Sox


1. Roger Clemens
2. Octavio Dotel
3. Bret Boone
4. Wily Mo Pena, if not Griffey
5. Alfonso Soriano
6. Ted Lilly
7. Kip Wells
8. Tony Armas Jr.
9. Mike Sweeney
10. Ugueth Urbina


A.J. Burnett, Fla
Chris Carpenter, StL
Matt Morris, StL
Brad Penny, LA
Jeff Weaver, LA
Tim Wakefield, Bos
Brett Tomko, SF
Tony Armas Jr., Wash
Jarrod Washburn, LAA

B.J. Ryan, Balt
Billy Wagner, Phi
Octavio Dotel, Oak
Trevor Hoffman, SD

Ramon Hernandez, SD
Mike Piazza, NYM
Bengie Molina, LAA
Brad Ausmus, Hou

Paul Konerko, 1B, CHW
Kevin Millar, 1B, Bos
Erubiel Durazo, 1B, Oak
Scott Hatteberg, 1B, Oak
Bret Boone, 2B, Sea
Craig Biggio, 2B, Hou
Placido Polanco, 2B, Phi
Rafael Furcal, SS, Atl
Alex Gonzalez, SS, Fla
Nomar Garciaparra, SS, CHC
Aramis Ramirez, 3B, CHC
Bill Mueller, 3B, Bos

Hideki Matsui, NYY
Johnny Damon, Bos
Preston Wilson, Col
Bernie Williams, NYY
Milton Bradley, LAD
Jacque Jones, Min
Brian Giles, SD
Larry Walker, StL
Sammy Sosa, Balt
Juan Encarnacion, Fla

Yankees Twins Angels Braves Cardinals Giants
Red Sox Indians A's Marlins Cubs Padres
Orioles Tigers Rangers Mets Astros Dodgers
Blue Jays White Sox Mariners Phillies Brewers D-Backs
D-Rays Royals Nationals Reds Rockies