A Look Into the Crystal Ball

The CCO’s 2007 Predictions

SI.com released their pre-season predictions earlier in the week. They have the Cubs finishing second in the central behind the Cardinals and not making the playoffs….with the Angels beating the Dodgers in the Fall Classic. Pre-season predictions are what make this time of year interesting as fans from coast to coast wait for Opening Day. With all of the expectations, here are the predictions from every contributor at the CCO….

Shaun’s Predictions….

1) Chicago Cubs – 89-73
The loveable losers will finally be the loveable winners in the NL Central. The Cubs tried too hard this off-season to put a better team on the field to fail like they did last year. The man that will make this happen is Sweet Lou. He is not a loser, he is a proven winner and he will not let this talented team fail without a fight. Literally he may fight some people if we don’t win. I never felt Dusty had much motivation; he showed up in the morning and left in the afternoon….dude. I always wanted to be a fly on the wall when he gave a pre-game speech or a post game….”we will get em’ next time” talk. But to be honest I don’t think those speeches existed, you never heard about them. Just four games into spring training and four games into sweet Lou’s career as a Cub and there has already been one pre-game “pep talk”….that we know about. That’s a winner. He wants to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame just like the next big leaguer that got a cup of coffee, but he knows he has some things standing in his way. But if you take the Cubs to the World Series….and win!!! Sweet Lou is in, and he knows it. I just hope he can teach these overpaid athletes a thing or two about winning. I know we have talent…. talent is printed in the newspaper every morning within the box score. I just wish there was a stat for attitude, and that is what is going to take this team to the next level. A winning attitude!

On a side note, I predict come the trade deadline Hendry will make some serious moves to improve the already potent infield.

2) Houston Astros – 82-80
They got better with the addition of Carlos Lee and he is going to love the Crawford Boxes. But they lost too much when Pettitte went to the evil empire and Clemens is playing the “will I won’t I game” or retirement. They will put up a fight but their late charge this year will be just that, too late.

3) St. Louis Cardinals – 77-85
One and done, would I take it of course but they are not a team of destiny by no means. Their rotation is in shambles, and one guy cannot take you to the promise land. Even if that guy is one of the best to swing the lumber. I personally think LaRussa and Rolen are still fighting which is never good for the clubhouse, Edmonds is on his last leg and Pujols….alright he is unreal. But I really don’t think they have the pitching and some of their big guns are shooting BB’s as of late.

4) Milwaukee Brewers – 77-85
They are a little scary, but they are still the Brewers. The addition of Suppan is not going to take you to the next level. If Sheets stays healthy, which we all know he won’t, they will have a pretty good rotation. Especially Capuano, talk about Cub Killer. But other than that, I really think they are a bunch of overachievers that will underachieve this year.

5) Cincinnati Reds – 74-85
They have rebuilt their Pen, and have some big bats. But without Gloo-roo how is Arroyo going to get an invite to the HR Derby in San Fran?

6) Pittsburgh Pirates – 64-98
It made me sick when they were celebrating after they beat us for the toilet bowl trophy last year. What is this a Gus Macker tournament in a mall parking lot? They just don’t have the talent and, in this market, the dollars.

Thomas’ Predictions….

1) Chicago Cubs
Soriano, Lilly, Marquis, and Floyd were all good acquisitions. This year doesn’t depend on Wood and Prior. I also like Lou Piniella as a manager and I feel with the talent he has on the Cubs this year, he will get the job done. They are solid at all spots and have great depth in all areas too.

2) Houston Astros
I like the Astros to compete with the Cubs for the top spot. They lost Pettitte but added Carlos Lee, Woody Williams and Jason Jennings. If Clemens comes back to Houston they will be a tough team. If not, they will still be good and I see them in 2nd.

3) Milwaukee Brewers
I like Milwaukee’s pitching staff and they added Jeff Suppan, which will help. If Ben Sheets can stay healthy they will be even better. They have quietly built a good offense behind their pitching so they are a top NL Central team now.

4) St. Louis Cardinals
I have the Cardinals 4th. I think they lost a lot this year and didn’t do much to replace the players. Behind Carpenter, they have a big question mark when you look at their pitching staff. The offense is still good but you can’t always make up for the deficiencies of the pitchers.

5) Pittsburgh Pirates
I have the Pirates in 5th but I have to admit, they are still young and if they come together, they could be scary this year. There youth is what keeps me from moving them up. Adding LaRoche makes them better but I see them a year away from putting it all together. The Pirates are my sleeper team.

6) Cincinnati Reds
The Reds competed last year but this year they will struggle because most other teams are better this year. Gonzalez and Conine should help. Homer Bailey is being mentioned but he is still young. I see the Reds finishing last in a good division.

Brian’s Predictions….

1) Chicago Cubs – 90-72
We all know the story, many of us feel the same, we just have to see what happens. If Ted Lilly and Rich Hill combine to win 30 games, this team will be in great shape. The Cubs are going to score early and often and late and before the game and after the game, but as is the story in baseball, pitching and defense will be the story for the Cubs. Will Izturis’ defense be good enough to hide his atrocious game at the plate? Will Matt Murton evolve into the stud I think he can? Will Soriano fit in Center? Again, many questions, but I think that somehow, someway, the pitching will be just good enough for this team and the Cubbies will win their 2nd Division crown in five years. If Hill really is a stud and Lilly produces as he has before, the Division may not be the last stop for this team. However, if the pitching and defense fail, the beer will be falling all the way to Chicago for the Good Land that is Milwaukee.

2) Milwaukee Brewers – 87-75
The Brewers may have the most proven rotation in the entire division and have a couple of future studs in Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks. Unfortunately for the Crew, Geoff Jenkins may be all but done. The defense is rather suspect and they will need Bill Hall to continue his rapid improvement the past couple of season to offset the loss of Carlos Lee. Francisco Cordero pitched great after being traded from the Rangers and Derrek Turnbow still has electric stuff. The Brewers are poised to take this division if the Cubs cannot find adequate pitching.

3) St. Louis Cardinals – 81-81
Who knows if the Tony LaRussa DUI will cause distractions, but I highly doubt it. As everyone knows the Cardinals pitching staff is depleted and besides former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter, there is a not a proven starter on the staff. Adam Wainwright showed flashes of brilliance in the post-season and appears to have front end rotation stuff. Anthony Reyes is a large question mark beyond on game in the World Series. Jim Edmonds will most likely start the season on the DL and Scott Rolen may be on the downside of his career. Albert Pujols is a superstar, but they only won 83 games last year and beyond being a year older, have lost two or three key parts of the team.

4) Pittsburgh Pirates – 78-84
The Pirates seem to be a sexy pick after finishing the second half of last season two games over .500. They have a good core of young player and the defending batting champ in Freddy Sanchez. I really like the acquisition of Adam LaRoche as I think he will be an All-Star first-sacker very soon. Jason Bay will turn in another All-Star performance and Jack Wilson is capable of hitting .300. The rotation is young and Cubs fans have seen what Zach Duke is capable of doing. Though they have a good core, I think it may have to wait one or two more years.

5) Houston Astros – 78-84
The Roger Clemens question lingers as the season starts, but I doubt he will be back. Couple that with the loss of Pettitte and the pitching staff is a shadow of its former self. Roy Oswalt is one of the best in the game, but Brandon Backe has proved fragile, so Jason Jennings may be forced to carry the load. He may have done that in Denver, but the Rockies were never a year removed from the World Series. The addition of Carlos Lee will add pop to the lineup. Along with Lance Berkman and Mike Lamb, the Astros could put up a lot of runs, especially at home. However, with a shaky staff and an even shakier closer, I do not see the Astros winning more than….

6) Cincinnati Reds – 74-88
Ah, the Red Legs. Will Griffey stay healthy? Will Dunn hit above .225? Will Harang repeat his effort last season? The team obviously has a lot of questions and I am not sure how effective Bronson Arroyo will be after his first go round. National League hitters know him now, so it will be tougher for the guitar strumming righty to get guys out, but he is one heck of an inning-eater. The Reds may start off hot, like always, but I think we will see them struggling to win 75 games come September.

Jason’s Predictions….

1) Chicago Cubs – 92-70
Cubs have the depth at pitching, combined with the run support, and an improved OBP mindset to win the division. They also have the assets in the farm system to withstand any pitching injuries, and to also make any needed trades at the break. They have a number of players that can provide upside, such as Kerry Wood, Wade Miller, Felix Pie, and Cliff Floyd, yet they aren’t being depended on in order for the Cubs to win.

2) Houston Astros
The Astros have added three good players in Lee, Jennings, and Williams, but they aren’t any better after the losses of Pettitte and Clemens, and they are not built for the long-term in the pitching department now.

3) Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers have added some decent veterans to mix with their core young players. If their young bats, like Fielder, can continue to improve, they should be very tough to beat in their own ballpark. Losing Lee hurts, but not if they improve defensively as a result.

4) St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have fallen in love with their own hype, and falsely believe they can coach victories out of players with less talent. They have a gritty middle infield, and a superstar in Pujols, but beyond Carpenter, I don’t see what they have in their pitching staff to succeed. If Mulder is back to his Oakland form, that can change things, but not enough to win the division again.

5) Cincinnati Reds
The Reds bore me just thinking about them. What is their identity anymore? They got rid of Kearns, Griffey is an injury waiting to happen, Arroyo had a fluke year, and, as usual, they don’t have any pitching, and really didn’t do anything in the off-season. They will probably get off to a good start again, and then will falter by June.

6) Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are still in Pittsburgh. I don’t see how they can overcome the loss of Jeromy Burnitz. The only thing more obvious than my sarcasm is the fact that they will still be a bad team, and that they will further prove that baseball needs a salary cap asap.

Neil’s Predictions….

The Central Division teams all have more questions than answers and as the old cliche goes….that’s why they play the games. It is hard for me to pick against the Cardinals to win the division because they have for the past three seasons. It is the same scenario the Braves just went through, everyone predicted they would fall off the top year after year but Bobby Cox and company proved them all wrong for nearly 15 seasons.

1) Chicago Cubs – 88-74
Obviously the Cubs made more improvements than anyone else in the division….they had to after a 66-win season. The offense should score a ton of runs and I do like the fact Jim Hendry has back-ups in place to avoid the “injury bug” that has shortened the Cubs season the past two years. The defense in the outfield concerns me with Soriano learning on the job and Jacque Jones’ habit of throwing the ball directly into the ground but the infield defense should be tremendous and fun to watch. Without a clear number two pitcher in the rotation they will need a solid season out of Rich Hill and hope they can outscore their opponents when Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis are on the mound. The key, in my opinion, to the Cubs winning the division is getting off to a hot start and gaining some momentum heading into the summer months. The wild card for the Cubs is Lou Piniella….I have been more than impressed with him in spring training.

2) St. Louis Cardinals – 87-75
The Cardinals lost a lot in the off-season and with Chris Carpenter being their only proven starter it could be a rough season for the Cards. Dave Duncan, in my opinion, is the best pitching coach in the National League and always gets the most out of little talent. The Cardinals are getting older and with Jim Edmonds expected to start the season on the DL, they could be out of the race by June 1st….but as I said earlier it is very hard to count them out.

3) Milwaukee Brewers – 85-77
The Brewers dependence on Ben Sheets is all too familiar and if he stays healthy and wins 20 games, like some are predicting, then the Brewers will win 90 or more games. The Brewers have a very potent lineup and will score more than enough runs but the problem I see with them is they cannot catch the ball. Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder make for a very weak right side of the infield and Bill Hall in center could be an adventure as well. Corey Hart will provide a lot of power in right field and he has a very good arm. I would not be surprised if Hall is moved to left and Tony Gwynn, Jr. is in center before the All-Star break. Hopefully the Cubs will score a ton of runs off of Chris Capuano this season to make up for the goose egg they put up against him last year.

4) Houston Astros – 82-80
The Astros signed the biggest ‘Cub-Killer’ of them all in the off-season, Carlos Lee and the Astros will be a thorn in the side of the Cubs all season. While Lance Berkman will put up his numbers, along with Lee, the success of the Astros offense rests on the shoulders of Morgan Ensberg. With the trade of Willy Taveras, Chris Burke will be the everyday center fielder and he is very Ryan Freel-esque. The Astros’ top prospect, Hunter Pence, is ready to make his major league debut and could have a large impact this season for the Astros if Burke, Craig Biggio or Luke Scott struggle and force the Astros’ hand into promoting him from Round Rock. The Astros staff has any many questions, if not more than the Cubs’ staff. After Roy Oswalt there is Jason Jennings, Woody Williams and then dependence on unproven young arms with questionable talent. Brad Lidge is coming off a horrible season and it could be “Lights Out for Lidge” in the closers role if he struggles when the season starts. The Astros will put up a ton of runs in the Juice Box but they will give up just as many.

5) Pittsburgh Pirates – 79-83
Like every other team in the Central the Pirates are depending on unproven, yet promising, pitchers. Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm have huge upsides and if they continue to improve and “figure it out”, the Pirates could be one of the surprise teams of the year. Adam LaRoche gives the Pirates a legitimate bat from the left side, not to mention a Gold Glove caliber first baseman. The addition of LaRoche to a lineup that already included Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson could result in a very potent offense. Jim Tracy is a good manager and they posted the best record in the second half of last season among NL Central teams. I agree with Thomas, the Pirates could be a very dangerous team and this season’s sleeper.

6) Cincinnati Reds – 79-83
The Reds always play the Cubs tough, 6 of the first 12 games of the season are between the two teams and if the Cubs struggle with them again, there could be a hole for the Cubs to dig out of before tax day. The Reds’ success will depend largely on Ken Griffey, Jr. and Bronson Arroyo. Griffey is supposed to start the season in right field, if healthy, with either Ryan Freel or the surprise, Josh Hamilton, in center. If Griffey can play 130+ games and Arroyo can pitch the way he did in the first half of last season, the Reds will be in the middle of the race come late August. Aaron Harang is one of the most underrated pitchers in the league and is coming off a very good season but after Harang and Arroyo there is a major drop off in the rotation and their bullpen has as many holes as the Brewers gloves. Homer Bailey should make his big league debut in late May or early June, the young right-hander is in the mold of Kerry Wood and Nolan Ryan. Josh Hamilton has had a great spring and could have a huge impact on this team if he can continue his level of play once the bright lights are turned on.

The central may be the weakest division in baseball and for the sake of the Cubs, that is a positive. Every team can make an argument for winning the division.

Only 10 days left until Two Thousand and Seven….

Quote of the Day

"Don’t ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure." - Joe Maddon