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As Only Clear Choice, Yankees Will Be a Mile High in October

April 01, 2001|ROSS NEWHAN

Question: If competitive disparity is such a rampant problem, why is predicting the division races so difficult this season?

Only in the American League East, where the New York Yankees are certain to repeat, is there clear definition.

In each of the other five divisions, at least two and as many as four teams have viable chances. There may be lost hope, as Commissioner Bud Selig likes to say, for a third of the 30 teams, but that ratio is really no different than in any era.

Amid the stiffer competition, with the unbalanced schedule putting an emphasis on division results and rivalries, can the Yankees and New York Mets ultimately reenact their Subway World Series of last year?

Well, the Yankees strengthened their bid for a fourth consecutive title by adding Mike Mussina to a rotation of Roger Clemens, Orlando Hernandez and Andy Pettitte, but the Mets will have a tougher road without that horse Mike Hampton at the top of their rotation, especially in the playoffs, if they get that far.

Is there any possibility finally of a Freeway World Series?

Well, that's still a stretch, but the Dodgers and Angels do have realistic chances in their respective divisions, which are probably the most competitive.

Each of the four teams has a shot in the American League West, while only the San Diego Padres are without hope among the five in the National League West.

The prediction here is that the Yankees will defeat the Colorado Rockies in the World Series, overcoming a siege of altitude sickness, which may also be affecting this prognosticator.

A closer look:


1. Colorado Rockies; 2. Dodgers; 3. Arizona Diamondbacks; 4. San Francisco Giants; 5. San Diego Padres.

Comment: The high-priced addition of Hampton, Denny Neagle and Ron Villone to a rotation that includes Pedro Astacio and Brian Bohanon gives the Rockies a realistic chance to play as well on the road as at home, but it's a division in which you can pick a name out of a hat and have a legitimate shot--unless you are unfortunate enough to pick the Padres. The Dodgers will need a formidable rotation to pitch as well as expected, a comeback season by Shawn Green, glue for their middle infielders and a muzzle for Gary Sheffield.


1. St. Louis Cardinals; 2. Houston Astros; 3. Milwaukee Brewers; 4. Cincinnati Reds; 5. Chicago Cubs; 6. Pittsburgh Pirates.

Comment: Along with the Florida Marlins, the Brewers are one of baseball's two most improving teams, but even given the impetus of their new ballpark, they have too far to go in a division in which a) the return of closer Billy Wagner and a familiarity with Enron Field should restore the Astros to contending caliber and b) the Cardinals still boast the most stability, with the acquisition of Dustin Hermanson and the return of Matt Morris from elbow reconstruction buoying a rotation shocked by Rick Ankiel's ongoing wildness.


1. Atlanta Braves; 2. New York Mets; 3. Florida Marlins; 4. Philadelphia Phillies; 5. Montreal Expos.

Comment: It may be that the division's best rotation is now found in Florida, not Atlanta. The Marlin staff can bring it, but may need another year of experience. The Braves have concerns about John Smoltz's elbow and Kevin Millwood's diminished effectiveness, and did little to shore up their division dominance after their early playoff elimination. On the other hand, the loss of Hampton puts a considerable load on Al Leiter and forces the Mets to ask a lot of retreads Steve Trachsel and Kevin Appier.


1. Oakland Athletics; 2. Texas Rangers; 3. Angels; 4. Seattle Mariners.

Comment: The acquisition of Johnny Damon, the emergence of Tim Hudson and Barry Zito, and their playoff experience of last year should make the young and swaggering A's simply too much for anyone in the West to beat. The $252-million addition of Alex Rodriguez has tended to overshadow the Rangers' other additions--Ken Caminiti, Andres Galarraga and Randy Velarde--to an offense that will be asked to compensate for a suspect pitching staff. The Angels made an important, aggressive move in replacing Jose Canseco with Glenallen Hill, strengthening an offense that should be good enough even without Mo Vaughn. However, there is a question of reliability at shortstop, and the rotation lacks a proven winner, possibly burdening a bullpen that may significantly miss the 96 appearances Mark Petkovsek and Mike Fyhrie made last year.


1. Chicago White Sox; 2. Cleveland Indians; 3. Kansas City Royals; 4. Detroit Tigers; 5. Minnesota Twins.

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