Final box score line of the spring: Six sun-drenched weeks, two states, two rental cars, 3,106 miles driven, 26 camps visited (apologies to the Astros, Royals, Indians and Blue Jays), enough mustard-stained receipts to supply the Giants with ticker-tape for another victory parade and one request from Manny Ramirez ("Put in a good word for me").
So how wrong can these big and bold, brassy and bossy 2011 predictions be, anyway?
Wait. Don't answer that.
But before you take personally what I'm about to write, a word of warning first: You're talking to the guy who, one year ago, told you six months in advance that Seattle's Felix Hernandez and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay would win the 2010 Cy Young Awards.
Just sayin'. ...
So as you become flush with anger in the next few moments because I'm disrespecting your Yankees, I've got an agenda against your Cardinals, I'm too devilish to pick your Angels, I'm too boneheaded to see the light that your Indians will be the surprise team of 2011, just remember those Cy Young picks.
(And maybe forget the fact that I had the Phillies over the Yankees in last year's World Series.
Just sayin'. ...)
2. Yankees : There's Something About A-Rod: With main squeeze Cameron Diaz watching, he hit this spring like he's primed for a monster year. And no, I'm not (messin') with you.
3. Rays : Sorry, Manny. Tried to put in a good word for you. But can't see your club finishing in the money after losing Carl Crawford, Matt Garza and pretty much the entire bullpen. Kyle Farnsworth as closer? Yikes.
1. White Sox : So many power arms in the bullpen, and Adam Dunn will take to U.S. Cellular Field so much like John Belushi to mashed potatoes ("What am I now? A zit!"), that GM Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen will fall back in love like the late Elizabeth Taylor with another husband.
2. Twins : Don't like the way Justin Morneau seems so fragile. But maybe I'll Netflix Slapshot and reconsider. (Plus, Twins took the most underrated losses of the winter in losing relievers Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier).
4. Royals : Finally, the Royals appear to have figured out a way to produce and bottle minor leaguers as appetizingly as Arthur Bryant's does barbecue sauce. Check back in a couple years, when the Royals will be finger-lickin' good.
5. Indians : Even Chief Wahoo is covering his eyes.
1. Rangers : Josh Hamilton and Co. will continue to bludgeon opponents while young arms like Derek Holland and Michael Kirkman develop. And if you don't believe me, club president Nolan Ryan will go all Robin Ventura on ya.
|Rounding the Bases|
2. Athletics : I so wanted to pick Oakland first based largely on Mr. Perfect Game Dallas Braden's hat collection. But I figured that would be irresponsible, even for a team built around wickedly talented young pitching.
3. Angels : Can anybody here play third base and produce offensively at the same time?
4. Mariners : After producing the fewest runs in the DH era a year ago, even with Ichiro, Seattle again will have a harder time scoring than the freshman class nerd.
2. Phillies : Liberty Bell and Rocky aficionados want to know: Can a killer rotation including Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt overcome a lineup that appears to have aged more quickly than tired Rocky jokes?
3. Mets : Lawyer Irving Picard says the Wilpons made millions in the Bernie Madoff scheme, which is in dispute. What's not in dispute is that the Wilpons now are looking to extract more dough at the box office from a fan base that has received nothing but diminishing returns in recent years.
4. Marlins : No truth to rumor that new Marlins stadium set to open in 2012 will come complete with underground nets at each position designed to unobtrusively rise up and aid Marlins in catching the ball when Florida is in the field.
5. Astros : If Biggio, Bagwell, Berkman and Oswalt can ... wait a sec. Who the hell ARE these Astros?
6. Pirates : If new manager Clint Hurdle yells out an order for a new reliever but someone brings him a Primanti Bros. sandwich instead, will it really affect the Bucs' place in the standings?
1. Rockies : Without a Miley Cyrus song taking the edge off his Coors Field at-bats, the sky is the limit for Troy Tulowitzki. If he, Carlos Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez stay healthy, the Rockies have the best talent in the division.
4. Dodgers : If protesters' demonstrations in Egypt can lead to Hosni Mubarak stepping down as president, can't Dodgers fans get it together and do something about Frank and Jamie McCourt?
5. Diamondbacks : Kirk Gibson has the intense look of a major-league manager. The Diamondbacks do not have the look of a major-league team.
American League: Yankees. Best second-place team $200 million can buy.
National League: Phillies. With that rotation, Phillies will have a winning record if they average two runs a game.
Red Sox over Rockies: Fortunes have changed so dramatically in Boston over the past decade that now you only have to be 4 years old to say, "If the Red Sox can just win the World Series, I can die peacefully."
|Troy Tulowitzki: Rockies shortstop, NL MVP, NL champion. (Getty Images)|
NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies. Remember, he missed six weeks last season with a broken wrist.
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers. In a very close race over Seattle's Felix Hernandez (who again will battle lack of run support), Boston's Jon Lester (whose numbers will be a little inflated because of the AL East lineups), David Price (ditto) and Oakland's Trevor Cahill.
NL Cy Young: Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies. Hard worker and filthy stuff.
AL Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Red Sox. Like an actor who wins an Oscar after years of near-misses, Francona is primed for the award after last season's excellent job of keeping an injury-ravaged team in contention.
NL Manager of the Year: Jim Tracy, Rockies. He'll move (Rocky) mountains this summer.
AL Rookie: Jeremy Hellickson, Rays. Tampa Bay keeps pumping them out. ...
First manager fired: Edwin Rodriguez, Marlins. The guy is whip-smart in a Felipe Alou/philosopher kind of way. But under impatient owner Jeffrey Loria, Sparky Anderson and Earl Weaver wouldn't have a chance.
Biggest Name Traded at July Deadline: Jose Reyes, Mets. Contract year, shrinking Mets' finances, unreliable health history, it all adds up.
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Jake Peavy, White Sox. This spring's quick comeback was bound to come with a setback. When he cranks it up in late April, look out.
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Nate McLouth, Braves. Do not underestimate the concussion symptoms he experienced last year in helping to sabotage his season.
AL Home Run Champ: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox. That swing. Fenway Park. That ball could be, it might be ... it is.
NL Home Run Champ: Prince Fielder, Brewers. Can you say, contract year?
AL Surprise: Erik Bedard, Mariners. He's feeling better than he has in a long time. Maybe this is the year he decides to pitch -- and his body allows it.
NL Surprise: Brad Hawpe, Padres. One bad year in 2010 and everybody forgets about him. Hawpe was bothered by a rib-cage injury last year and hit 23 home runs as recently as two years ago.
AL Disappointment: Brian Roberts, Orioles. Do not like the sound of injuries popping up already this spring.
NL Disappointment: Pat Burrell, Giants. Don't look for a repeat of the Look, I found my swing! run by the Bay last summer.