April 2006


Basketball picksApril 1, 2006

2006 NBA Preview

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2006 NBA All-Star Game Preview

The NBA All-Star game is just as popular as ever and the festivities are getting bigger and better this year in Houston. After all, the city is rocking as home town boys Tracy McGrady and Yao are both on the Eastern Conference starting lineup. This year’s All-Star stages some of the best talent this league has seen in a long time with familiar names such as Iverson, Garnett, Duncan, Shaq, Bryant and McGrady. However, there are some relative newcomers to the all-star scene including Wade, Nash, Yao and Lebron. The game has gotten more interesting over the years simply because the players are actually trying to win. The players I believe to watch out for the most this year, are the very three that are chasing the coveted scoring title – Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. All three players although leading sub-par teams, individually are putting up record numbers with A.I. continuing to show his dominance year and in year out as the leader in the scoring title, Kobe with his 81 point performance and Lebron setting countless records becoming the youngest player to do nearly everything.

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From a bettor’s perspective, the game offers countless props to the conventional side and total on the game. From the MVP of the game where odds are 500+ for Tracy McGrady to a 1000+ for past winners Iverson, Duncan and O’Neal. You could even wager on sharp shooter Ray Allen to win the 3pt. shoot out at +265 which could provide great value as Allen hasn’t had much of a winning season and could end the first half the season on a winning note. After all, why else is Seattle even in ball games considering that Allen gets double teamed and still drains as many points as he does. Two other props of intrigue are the skills competition where Steve Nash is at +109 and considering he might be the best ball handler and all around player of this league, as shown by last year’s MVP award, this could be a solid bet considering his skills handling the ball as well as his shooting prowess. Besides, he has his own ball handling video! Finally, young Josh Smith is at +151 for the Slam Dunk Contest. Having watched Smith and his dunks this season, this kid is incredibly talented and his transition from high school to the NBA hasn’t affected his game as he is still flying high. Sure Iguadala, Warrick and Robinson are talented, but Josh Smith and those teen legs could get the job done as he is the fan-favorite to win.

The opening line of this game has the West favored by -5 and the total set at an incredible pace to a total of 258.5 which ranges from sports book to sports book. The East are 5 point dogs to the West this year after having won the last three of four. I believe the value here is not on the spread as most All Star Game matchups in the previous 9/10 years have been decided by 10 points are more. I believe the value here might be on the underdog East on the moneyline which would pay nice. The better bet here I believe is on the total. Taking away the Double OT All Star game in 2003 in Atlanta, the previous 10 years have the total around at 245. This year, the total is set about 13 points higher. If we just continued prior history, this game should go under. Why is the line so high? Answers vary but it could be to the fact, that this game is in the West coast which traditionally leads to less scoring as well as the fact that this year’s league has so much talent, past scoring champions, league MVP’s and such a depth of young talent. I'll reiterate I'm not making any official picks but those are my thoughts to help you with your bets.

Either way, this year’s All-Star will be memorable even before the game starts as I believe it is the most star-studded NBA game that most can ever remember.

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Baseball picksApril 1, 2006

MLB Odds on Rogers Clemens Return to Major League Baseball

Odds on Roger Clemens Return to MLB: Wagerweb.com

(Costa Rica, May 4, 2006) Wagerweb.com, one of the Internet’s largest betting sites known for its offering of odds for the hottest issues surrounding the news media (especially sports), posted odds today offering bettors a chance to predict which Major League Baseball team Roger Clemens will return to this season.

“Bettors flock to our site when they hear of these types of ‘proposition bets’ in which outcomes of certain sports issues can be predicted,” says Dave Johnson, CEO of WagerWeb.com. He adds, “The Clemens negotiations are heating up, and we want to be part of the excitement.”

Clemens’ is speaking with the Astros, Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox and negotiations can go either way since there are positive and negative aspects for joining each of these teams. He could join the Yankees with a strong chance of making the playoffs this year and be far from his home and family, or join the Astros and be 20 minutes from his house, yet risk the possibility of not making the playoffs. The posted odds are as follows:

Yankees 1:2 -200 (Bet $200 to win $100)

Red Sox 1:1 +100 (Bet $100 to win $100)

Astros 2:1 +200 (Bet $100 to win $200)

Rangers 6:1 +600 (Bet $100 to win $600)

Field (any other team) 10:1 +1000 (Bet $100 to win $1000)

Note: If Clemens does not sign and remains retired for 2006 MLB season all bets are deemed 'no action'

Within the last month, Wagerweb.com has posted odds for the Duke Lacrosse player DNA matches and trial outcomes; with which team member or coach Terrell Owens would have his first confrontation this season; whether Reggie Bush would be stripped of the Heisman; even whether or not Shaun Alexander would suffer from the “Madden Curse.”

About WagerWeb

WagerWeb.com, founded in 1997, is a privately held, offshore online gaming company, fully licensed and located in San Jose, Costa Rica. With almost 10 years of experience, innovation and gaming technology, Wagerweb.com features a sportsbook, a racebook and casino and has accepted more than 50,000,000 wagers since the company’s launch.

Media Contact: Dan Grody
Tellem Worldwide
310.479.6111
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Baseball picksApril 1, 2006

2006 MLB Preview – National League

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2006 MLB PreviewAlso see…

By Issac Miller Sports-Central.org

The St. Louis Cardinals have made the playoffs five of the last six seasons. Manager Tony LaRussa’s club has also won four of the last six NL Central titles. Clearly, St. Louis is the team to beat in the National League. The Cardinals have won 205 games in the last two seasons with no signs of slowing down.

There is some competition in the NL Central, though. The Brewers may surprise a lot of people this year, but they are not realistic competition for St. Louis. The Reds and Pirates are another few years from being competitive, so the Cards need to watch out for the Cubs and Astros.

The Cubs are interesting because of their starting pitchers. With healthy seasons from Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, the Cubs can make a push for the division crown. The problem is that Wood is 11-13 over the last two years. In fact, Kerry has never had more than 14 wins in a season and has a career ERA of 3.67. He has impressive strikeout numbers, but he needs to learn to win more games and protect his body. If he posts another .500 season, Chicago will not reach 75 wins.

As for Prior, he is entering his fifth season in the league. Like Wood, he has yet to pitch up to his potential. He has 719 strikeouts in four seasons, but only a record of 41-23. Remove an 18-6 2003 campaign and Prior is 23-17 for the Cubs. He needs to step up in 2006 and win between 18-21 games in order for the Cubs to make any noise in the NL.

St. Louis is looking at a third straight 100-win season. The Houston Astros will be unable to produce enough runs to win the Central. Quality pitchers like Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Brandon Backe, and Brad Lidge will ensure at least 80 wins for Houston. This number will go up to 85 or 86 if the hitting improves from 2005, a season in which the Astros hit .256 as a club. Look for Houston and Chicago to fight for second place in the division, and also battle some NL East teams for the wildcard.

The Cardinals will win between 100 and 103 games in 2006. St. Louis has 46 games against the Reds, Brewers, and Pirates. LaRussa’s team also gets interleague games with Kansas City and Detroit. With 2005 NL MVP Albert Pujols and 2005 Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter on the roster, the Cardinals will cruise to the best record in baseball. There’s just too much talent in St. Louis.

Then there’s the NL West. There are huge holes in all five teams that make this the worst division in the majors. This is the like the NFC North or the NBA’s Atlantic Division. One of these teams will make the playoffs, but don’t expect more than 88 wins from the division champs.

The San Francisco Giants still have Barry Bonds, the game’s best player, but age is a concern for the Giants. SS Omar Vizquel is 39, OF Moises Alou is 40, and Bonds is 42. Also on the roster is 39-year-old Steve Finley. The Giants will contend for the division, but aging veterans tend to break down over 162 games.

A bright spot for the Giants is OF Randy Winn. He was acquired by San Francisco last season and hit .359 in 58 games for the Giants. He is also solid defensively, which SF needs to be successful.

The fact remains that the Giants will go only as far as Barry Bonds takes them. If he hits .350, 40 homers, 120 RBI, and has a .500 OBP, the Giants can win 85 games. At 42-years-old, those numbers would be remarkable. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but look for more modest numbers from the aging Bonds. Wins in the 72-78 range is more realistic because of a weak pitching staff anchored by Jason Schmidt and Matt Morris.

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So, who wins this terrible division? Don’t look for Arizona or Colorado to win more than 70 games each. The Padres were two games over .500 in ’05, which was good enough to win the division last year. San Diego will win 72 or 73 games in 2006, and finish third in the division. The new names on the Padres, like Mike Piazza and Mike Cameron, will not result in any more wins for San Diego.

The fact is that the Dodgers look ready to make a move in the NL West. Los Angeles had a disappointing 2005 season, finishing with just 71 wins after winning the division in 2004. L.A. has Derek Lowe and Brad Penny in the starting rotation, along with newcomers Jae Seo and Brett Tomko. Seo started 14 games for the Mets last year and went 8-2 with a 2.59 ERA. With these guys, the Dodgers should have the best rotation in the NL West.

The bullpen is stronger with the additions of Danys Baez and Lance Carter, but the biggest difference will be the return of closer Eric Gagne. He only pitched in 14 games last year, but should be healthy by Opening Day. The Dodgers might have the best bullpen in the NL if all of these guys perform well.

The Dodgers’ pitching looks good, but they improved offensively as well. L.A. picked up Nomar Garciaparra, Rafael Furcal, Bill Mueller, and Kenny Lofton. The Dodgers will have a potent offense behind the likes of Hee-Seop Choi, Jeff Kent, Ricky Ledee, Jose Cruz, Jr., and the new guys. This is the best team on paper with a ceiling of around 95 wins. Look for L.A. to win the NL West with closer to 87 or 88 wins.

Last year, San Diego made the playoffs by winning 82 games. There were three teams in the NL East that missed the playoffs with better records. That’s the advantage of a weak division. While Philadelphia, New York, and Florida were beating up on each other, the Padres breezed through garbage teams in the West. The 2006 NL East should be as competitive as last year, maybe more so.

Atlanta is looking for their 15th straight division title. The Braves don’t look like the best team in the East, but after 14 seasons finishing on top, I would not bet against them. Atlanta showed off some great young talent in 2005. Jeff Francoeur hit .300 as a rookie last year. Adam LaRoche had career highs in home runs and RBI last year, as well. Wilson Betemit hit .305 in 2005, and has one of the quickest bats I’ve ever seen. He is a future all-star. There is some serious young talent in Atlanta to go with Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, John Smoltz, and Tim Hudson.

The Braves will win 90 games in 2006. It will be interesting to see if that’s enough to win the division. The Marlins let go of most of their talent during the offseason and the guys they kept will not win 75 games. The Nationals probably overachieved to finish .500 last season. There just isn’t enough talent on this squad to contend in a stacked NL East.

The Phillies just missed the playoffs a season ago, winning 88 games in the process. Philadelphia will win fewer games in 2006. The problem for the Phillies was pitching last year. Starters Jon Lieber, Vicente Padilla, Randy Wolf, and Cory Lidle all had ERAs over 4.00. Philly lacks an ace on the staff and losing Billy Wagner is going to kill the bullpen. In ’06, the hitting will not be able to compensate for pitching that will be worse than it was in ’05. Philly will win 83 games at most, but don’t be surprised if they end up with fewer wins than Washington.

Which brings us to the New York Metropolitans. The Mets have the second highest payroll in baseball and loads of talent. Anything short of a division title will be a disappointment. In addition to guys like Carlos Beltran, Kaz Matsui, David Wright, and Cliff Floyd, the Mets added Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca. This lineup could be absolutely deadly.

The bullpen is dangerous as well with the additions of flamethrowers Billy Wagner and Jorge Julio. The Mets also added Chad Bradford, who can be tough on right-handed hitters. If this team can get to the seventh inning with a lead, these guys will do the rest.

The problem lies in New York’s starting pitching. The Mets lost Kris Benson and Jae Seo and did not replace them. Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, and Victor Zambrano are the core of the rotation, but other guys are going to have to step up. If they don’t get quality starts from Steve Trachsel and Aaron Heilman, the Mets will miss the playoffs.

Look for the Braves to win their 15th straight division title with 90 wins. Losing pitching coach Leo Mazzone might hurt this team over the next few years, but they still have Smoltz, Hudson, John Thompson, and Jorge Sosa in the rotation. Combined with powerful offensive guys, the Braves are the team to beat. The Mets will put together a solid season and make the playoffs as the wildcard team. New York will finish with 88 or 89 wins.

The 2006 NL playoffs will consist of the Cardinals, Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. The Mets will be beat up, having struggled through the month of September playing must-win games every night. The rested Red Birds, having clinched the NL Central in late August, will make short work of New York, winning in four games, losing Game 3 in NY.

The interesting part of all this is that the Mets and Braves will be battling for the right to play the Dodgers, in addition to the division crown. Because teams from the same division cannot play each other in the first round of the playoffs, the team that wins the NL East will get to play the Dodgers and the wildcard team, assuming it comes from the East, will play the Cardinals. That being said, the Braves are better than the Dodgers in almost every area and will win that series in three or four games.

The Braves will play the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. Atlanta will be tired from flying across the country to play Los Angeles and will be a step slow against St. Louis. It is clear that the Cardinals are the best team in the NL, maybe in all of baseball, and when October rolls around, they’re the team to beat.

Look for an exciting A’s/Cards World Series. St. Louis will be the best team in baseball for the third straight year, and LaRussa’s club will finally have a ring to show for it.

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Baseball picksApril 1, 2006

2006 MLB Preview – American League

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By Issac Miller Sports-Central.org

It was an interesting offseason in the American League. The Blue Jays made some noise by signing pitchers A.J. Burnett and B.J Ryan. The Red Sox added Coco Crisp and Josh Beckett. In the West, the A’s acquired Milton Bradley to help the offense and the Rangers signed Kevin Millwood to help their pitching.

Some burning questions still remain. Who will be this year’s Chicago White Sox? Will the Yankees regain their position on top of the American League?

To obtain a clear picture of the 2006 landscape, the success of the 2005 White Sox must be looked at. The New York Yankees should be checked out, as well, because they are always the team to beat in the AL. There is talent in every division, but in the end, the strongest team will be out West.

It seems that there is a team every year that overachieves for a while, only to lose to a hotter team in October. In 2005, the White Sox looked like another mediocre AL Central team reminiscent of the 2002-2004 Minnesota Twins. They appeared to have peaked too early, winning 57 games by the All-Star Break. Guys like Scott Podsednik and Jon Garland played outside of their minds in the first half. By the Midsummer Classic, Podsednik had stolen a ridiculous 44 bases and Garland had already won 14 games. Garland did not even start the All-Star Game; his teammate, Mark Buehrle, did.

Chicago slowed down, however, posting a 26-28 record from August 1st-September 27th. All signs pointed to a disappointing October. Chicago turned things around nicely, however, and started rolling. The White Sox went 16-1 after September 27th, including 11-1 in the playoffs. They were the hottest team in October, and maybe they were actually as good as their 99 wins would suggest.

As a Red Sox fan, I recall being thrilled when Boston got matched-up against the White Sox instead of the Angels in the first round of the playoffs. I thought the Red Sox would easily get to the ALCS. A lack of star power and household names made Chicago look beatable. Throw in a mediocre record after the All-Star Break, a terrible division, and 88 years of history and suddenly the team with the best record in the American League is an underdog. The Red Sox took Ozzie Guillen’s club for granted and received a three-game wildcard beat-down. The Angels and Astros never stood a chance.

So, looking to the upcoming 2006 season, it seems unlikely that the White Sox will win it all again. The 2005 Sox will be in contention for the AL Central crown, but will likely come up short. Chicago will not be able to duplicate the magic of 2005 without repeat performances from Garland and Podsednik, among others.

So, if not them, who? The favorite to win the 2006 World Series (based on several online sportsbooks) is the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers have the best team on paper, but that is nothing new. Joe Torre has no shortage of talent, and the Yanks will be in the middle of it for sure. Nevertheless, the Yankees have not won a title since owner George Steinbrenner went insane and starting stockpiling talent. There’s a big difference between the 2005 Chicago White Sox and the 2002-2006 New York Yankees.

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In 2000, the Yankees beat the New York Mets in five games to win their 26th world championship and their fourth in five years. Winning titles takes role players, defense, and chemistry. The Yankees had that down to a science from 1996-2000. Since then, the team has been completely rebuilt, replacing the likes of Scott Brosius and Andy Pettitte. Steinbrenner has acquired Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, and Johnny Damon. Some big names have even come and gone like Javier Vazquez and Jose Contreras. Despite those additions, a 27th championship ring eludes Mr. Steinbrenner. Simply hoarding big-name players does not guarantee titles.

So five years without a ring and payroll and expectations are skyrocketing for the guys in pinstripes. That being said, the 2006 squad looks like a legitimate contender. GM Brian Cashman revamped the bullpen by adding Kyle Farnsworth and Octavio Dotel. The Yankees have a monster lineup, a solid bullpen, and, barring injuries, an adequate starting rotation. Johnny Damon, signed via free agency, adds defensive help in centerfield, which was a major problem in 2005. Also, look for Robinson Cano to improve from an impressive rookie campaign in which he had 155 hits in 132 games. Overall, the Yanks look better than they did a year ago.

With all the stars in pinstripes, it’s hard to pick against them. The problem is that there is always a hotter team in October. New York was eliminated before getting to play last year’s hottest club, the White Sox, but from 2001-2004, the Yanks lost to the eventual champs each year. The Yankees will always be there in October, but it’s hard to compete in the postseason with inferior pitching, no matter how good you’re hitting is. The Bombers eventually succumb to quality pitching and defense.

For 2006, the starters must be consistent for New York to win it all. That means that Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina need to intimidate and frighten opponents. Neither did that last year. Both were way too vulnerable. If they don’t perform, New York will have another painful October.

Ultimately, the Yankees will win the AL East. New York will easily get to 96 or 97 wins with that $200 million roster and with some luck, that number could end up as high as 100 or 101. Boston will be right behind them in the area of 95 wins, depending on the performances of Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling. It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox gel with all the new additions.

The x-factor in the AL East will be the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays will not make the playoffs, but they will determine the wildcard team. If Toronto wins between 85 and 87 games, the Red Sox win total will go down to around 90. This will open the door for the White Sox, Angels, or Rangers to make the playoffs as the wildcard team. The new additions to the Jays squad, along with regulars like Vernon Wells and Roy Halladay, make them dangerous to the teams in the AL East, which have to play Toronto just under 20 times each.

In the AL Central, look for the Cleveland Indians to pick up where they left off at the end of the 2005 season. Cleveland went 19-8 in September a season ago, 93-69 overall, and should take advantage of a poor division. Cleveland gets 55 games in 2006 against Minnesota, Detroit, and Kansas City. The Indians also have an easy interleague schedule, playing nine games against the Reds, Cubs, and Brewers.

Cleveland will cruise to over 90 wins en route to an AL Central title. Look for the Tribe to finish with around 94 or 95 wins, possibly as many as 97 or 98.

The AL West will be interesting in ’06, as well. The Texas Rangers have a monster lineup full of young stars. They should win a lot of games if the pitching can improve even slightly from last year. Texas ranked 26th in team ERA a season ago, prompting them to sign pitcher Kevin Millwood, who led all AL pitchers in ERA last year. The overall pitching staff is still suspect, though, and middle relief will be a major problem in 2006. Look for this club to make a serious wildcard push while winning 85 or 86 games.

Oakland always hangs around with fantastic pitching and timely hitting. Oakland will win this division in 2006 with four nasty starting pitchers. Rich Harden will win 20 games if he’s healthy. Dan Haren will improve from a 14 win 2005 season. Barry Zito is a former Cy Young award winner and newcomer Esteban Loaiza is a crafty veteran who will settle into his role nicely in Oakland. There could be 60 wins in these four guys. Reigning AL Rookie of the Year Huston Street anchors the bullpen and could be an all-star this year.

Oakland also added Frank Thomas and Milton Bradley to help Eric Chavez and Bobby Kielty on offense. The A’s will be too much for a strong Anaheim club. Oakland wins 94 or 95 games behind the best pitching staff in the American League. Anaheim will win between 86 and 88 games competing heavily for a wildcard berth, and second place in the division, with Texas.

2006 should be an entertaining year in the AL. Texas and Toronto bulked up in an effort to finish better than third in their respective divisions. Both will contribute greatly to the overall playoff picture. When the smoke clears, however, the division champs will be New York, Cleveland, and Oakland. The wildcard representative will be Boston.

New York will beat Cleveland and meet Oakland in the ALCS. It will be the best lineup in baseball against the best pitching in baseball. Oakland wins in seven games with Harden throwing the game of his life in Yankee Stadium to win Game 7. A-Rod will bat .150 in the series.

The fact is that without a salary cap in the majors, New York is allowed to spend over $200 million. This results in regular season wins, maybe over 100 in ’06.

There are more than 10 former all-stars on the Yanks and at least four future Hall of Fame inductees. But think of them like the 1980 Russian Olympic Hockey team. The U.S. team was overmatched, but won because they had more motivation and just wanted it more. Chicago wanted it more last year. Look for Oakland to be the team in 2006 that wants it more than the Yankees in the American League.


2006 MLB Preview
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Baseball picksApril 1, 2006

2006 MLB Baseball Preview

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Top 10 MLB Players Under the '06 Radar

Free MLB Picks with detailed
analysis for the 2006 season

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By Mike Round Sports-Central.org

With the Super Bowl signifying the end of the pro football season this Sunday, it's time for attention to switch to the upcoming baseball season, which some of us are already guilty of.

I'm in the wife's doghouse at present — again. Not content with spending the winter fine-tuning my fantasy draft cheat sheets, on a walk with my 6-year-old daughter last week, I let my baseball obsession get the better of me. She innocently enquired when winter would end and what season came next.

Without thinking of the repercussions, I replied, "Winter ends when pitchers and catchers report, and then it's spring." Later, this was relayed to her mother, who corrected my error by mentioning something about wearing white again and sandals. At present, more children is listed as questionable.

The point I'm making is that it's never too early to get yourself in the right frame of mind for draft day. A winter trade can change the fantasy value of more than the players involved, so don't get caught playing catch-up the day before the draft. It's not easy ploughing through rosters in the early hours of the morning in the hope of spotting a potential bargain.

The early rounds are fairly easy to predict, but your team can be upgraded from the middle rounds onwards if you fine-tune your thinking. You can avoid having to spend hours scouring the waiver wire by taking the latter rounds just as seriously as the first four or five. Despite some spotty results in recent years in my own leagues (I blame injuries, of course), I still believe the latter rounds will make or break a draft.

So, onto my own predictions for a breakout season.

1. Chris Young (R), SP, San Diego Padres

At first, I couldn't believe the Rangers waved goodbye to the 6'8" righty in the trade that got Adam Eaton. Then I thought about it and it makes sense. Young is a fly ball biased pitcher and those can get seriously punished in Arlington. The Ranger brass thought Young got a bit lucky during his hot spell in '05 and noted after the break his ERA ballooned to 4.26. The spacious outfield in Petco will be more to his liking and he notched up a respectable 137 Ks in 164.2 innings. The Padres don't score like the Rangers, but they'll win enough games to keep his owners happy.

2. Chris Ray (R), RP, Baltimore Orioles

The perfect example of how a trade can suddenly elevate a player's value who wasn't involved in the actual trade. Ray had next to no fantasy value last year, but with B.J. Ryan taking the free agent dollars from Toronto, Ray is suddenly a relatively hot commodity. He's only had 41 appearances in the majors, but acquitted himself with great credit, striking out 43 batters in less than 41 innings and posting a respectable 2.66 ERA. The front office was so sure he's the man for the ninth that they made no attempt to bring in a vet after Ryan walked. The only worries are that he blew four save attempts last year and he walks too many. These problems can be corrected with experience.

3. Matt Cain (R), SP, San Francisco Giants

Felix Hernandez will be snagged in the early rounds by those dazzled by his September audition, but don't despair. Fellow '05 rookie Matt Cain will hang around long enough to represent the value that Hernandez doesn't. Cain came up in late August and posted a less-than earth shattering 2-1 record. Look below the surface and Cain actually had a better ERA than Hernandez (2.33 to 2.67) and a better WHIP (0.93 to 1.00). Admittedly, Felix threw nearly twice as many innings as Cain, but nevertheless, Cain showed enough to be a nice pickup. His nine-inning gem against the Cubs in a 2-1 win was the highlight of his seven starts. The Giants took Cain in the first round in 2002 and it looks a shrewd selection.

4. Brandon Webb (R), SP, Arizona Diamondbacks

Webb was once firmly on everybody's radar screen after a fine 2003 when he came within a whisker of taking the NL Rookie of the Year title. A 2.84 ERA with opponents hitting a measly .212 against him put him firmly on everybody's wanted list. Since then, things have slipped. In '04, he only won seven games and had a .248 BAA. Last year, he won more games (14), but the K rate dropped again and the BAA went up to .265. But there are reasons for optimism. Arizona play in a weak division, so wins won't be a problem and the infield defense looks a lot stronger with Orlando Hudson at second, a big plus for a pitcher who gets a fair number of groundball outs. If Webb hits his '03 form again, he'll be a bargain pickup.

5. Chris Capuano (L), SP, Milwaukee Brewers

Capuano has had three seasons in the majors on two not very good teams — Arizona and Milwaukee — but still has a winning record (26-24). He's poised, on a better Milwaukee team, to make the big break out this year. The stuff is there, including a heater that touches almost 100 mph on the gun, and he's now well-versed on NL hitters. He strikes out over seven batters per nine innings. The only worries are the walks (91 last year) and the fact that he threw 219 innings in '05, a hefty rise in workload. Despite this, I want him on my roster if he's there in the middle rounds.

6. Khalil Greene, SS, San Diego Padres

Greene has had two full seasons in the majors and he's not fulfilled his potential at the plate as yet, although he has a nice glove. For a first round pick (13th overall) in 2002, he has a lot left to prove. If anything, the numbers took a slight decline last year. Both seasons have seen spells on the DL and that's a worry for a young player with few miles on the clock. But, given an injury-free year on a decent hitting team, Greene could hit .280 plus with 85 RBIs and 75 runs. Not a bad return if you grab him in the latter rounds. He's no Miguel Tejada, but he's no Adam Everett, either.

7. Matt Holliday, LF, Colorado Rockies

As usual with Colorado hitters, he's awesome at home. He hits .348 in Coors and a hundred points less on the road in his short career. His home OPS is 1.005. Those 75 games or so in Coors will seriously help your batting average if you can afford to bench him on the road. With only two full seasons in the majors, he could learn to hit away from the rarefied air of Denver. Don't go too soon on him, but if he's there late and you need a fourth outfielder, he's worth a punt.

8. Grady Sizemore, CF, Cleveland Indians

Sizemore wasn't on anybody's radar screen last year, but it will be a different scenario in '06. You won't see Sizemore still available after the third or fourth rounds in any draft, but he'll be worth a high pick. He's 23, has speed, decent power, and plays on a hot young ball club. Last year's numbers really catch the eye for a second-year player. Expect a 30-30 season with a batting average around .300 and 90 plus RBIs if he stays healthy. The base running could improve (10 CS in 32 attempts last year), but that's a minor quibble.

9. Chad Tracy, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks

On a mediocre ball club in '05, Tracy really stepped it up in his second season in the majors. This year could be even better with more men on base for him. A robust .308 average with 27 homers and 72 RBIs was a quantum leap for Tracy from his 143 games in his rookie year. With even minimal improvement, he'll crack 30 home runs and get close to 100 RBIs. The one reservation is that he's slated to be the every day third baseman, a position new to him. If it doesn't distract him at the plate, he'll be a monster and make everybody in Phoenix forget the Troy Glaus experiment. Don't leave it too late to snag him.

10. Mike Jacobs, 1B, Florida Marlins

This is a real flyer as the Marlins figure to be poor in '06. The roster has been gutted (again) by owner Jeff Loria, who wants either a new stadium, funded by the hard-pressed taxpayer unsurprisingly, or a new city to play ball in. With one or two exceptions, the Marlins will put out a AAA team, so don't figure to win much except when Dontrelle Willis is on the mound. Nevertheless, they will score runs and play hard, so don't necessarily avoid Marlin players at all costs. Jacobs looked awesome in the few games we saw him in '05 (30) with the Mets. Traded in the Carlos Delgado deal, Jacobs will be the everyday 1B in Florida and he could make a serious impact. In those 30 games, he slugged 11 homers at .310. He won't keep that pace up in the cavernous spaces of Dolphins Stadium, but he could represent a nice second option at 1B.

 

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Baseball picksApril 1, 2006

2006 MLB Baseball Preview

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The days are getting longer, spring is here and more athletes are gathered in Arizona and Florida than usual. This can only mean one thing… baseball season is just around the corner. There have been many moves in this off-season and that will surely translate into an interesting 162 game season.

The question around the Big Apple is, "Will the Yanks play the Mets in the World Series this year?" Meanwhile, folks on the west coast are asking "How many teams in the national league will have winning records?" The Giants wonder if Bonds can finish a whole season; and even if he does, how productive will he be? And the National's are wondering if maybe they should have asked Soriano about LF before trading for him.

Clearly everyone's questions for the entire baseball season cannot be answered in the preseason, though I'll try lay a solid foundation for you to build your winning picks upon this season.

Projected team standings with preseason power rankings in [brackets]:

AL East:
1. N.Y. Yankees (95-67) [3]
2. Boston Red Sox (87-75) [4]
3. Toronto Blue Jays (86-76) [13]
4. Baltimore Orioles (72-90) [20]
5. Tampa Bay Devil (69-93) [21]

AL Central:
1. Chicago White Sox (95-67) [1]
2. Cleveland Indians (90-72) [5]
3. Minnesota Twins (81-81) [17]
4. Detroit Tigers (72-90) [25]
5. Kansas City Royals (65-97) [29]

AL West:
1. Oakland A’s (93-69) [6]
2. L. A. Angels (89-73) [8]
3. Texas Rangers (82-80) [10]
4. Seattle Mariners (73-89) [26]

NL East:
1. N. Y. Mets (95-67) [7]
2. Atlanta Braves (92-70) [11]
3. Philadelphia Phillies (84-78) [12]
4. Washington Nationals (77-85) [23]
5. Florida Marlins (63-99) [30]

NL Central:
1. St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) [2]
2. Milwaukee Brewers (89-73) [14]
3. Houston Astros (83-79) [16]
4. Chicago Cubs (82-80) [18]
5. Pittsburgh Pirates (74-88) [21]
6. Cincinnati Reds (73-89) [24]

NL West:
1. L. A. Dodgers (89-73) [13]
2. San Francisco Giants (85-77) [15]
3. San Diego Padres (79-83) [19]
4. Arizona Diamondbacks (76-85) [27]
5. Colorado Rockies (71-91) [28]

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Looking to come out on top this year:

Atlanta Braves:
Have you ever watched the Braves play a season and thought, "They won't be winning it this year" and somehow by the end of the season, they are the NL East champs? If so, you aren't alone. A team that has won 14 consecutive divisional titles is sure to have its share of skeptical observers. Though an area where everyone should focus is the way this team knows how to win as the season comes to a close. They have the will-power needed in clutch games to win the big games. With a pitching staff lead by Smoltz and Hudson and Andrew Jones still showing off his big bat, look for this ball club to get 90+ wins and move to the post season.

Chicago White Sox:
They have one of the best rotations in the league, a solid group of big-time hitters in their lineup and they have done nothing but fill a few holes in the off-season (namely the addition of J. Thome). While we don't see anyone reaching 100 wins in 2006 as this team nearly did in 2005, it is hard to argue against their chance to repeat as champs entering into such a wide-open season. They have arguably the best offensive and defensive balance heading into the 2006 season and arguably the most legitimate chance of winning it all this year. Granted, everything went close to perfect for them last year, but with Thome added, they can afford a little bad luck. If they suffer a lot of bad luck, look for the Indians to take this division.

N.Y. Yankees:
Johnny Damon is a Yankee. Yes, that sounds strange, but it's true. This could be the single best signing of any team in baseball in the off-season. Look for Damon to join the team who has won the AL East every year since 1998 and help them win it here in 2006. Damon will now be starting in the leadoff spot and batting ahead of Derek Jeter. That will be followed by Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, a healthy Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui and 2005 rookie of the year candidate Robinson Cano. That is not the AL all-star teams lineup, those players are actually all on the Yankees. Clearly they have the offensive power to go far in 2006. They added Shawn Chacon to join Randy Johnson and Mike Mussiana in their rotation, and they have one of the best closers in the league. The Johnny Damon addition may be all they need to win it all this year.

Oakland A's:
The Athletics are a very established franchise known for their quality pitching and drafting of pitching prospects. For such reasons, their offensive stats have been sub-par the past few years so they looked to add the big bat of Frank Thomas in the off-season. He is added to their lineup with the 2004 AL Rookie of the year winner in Bobby Crosby as well as Eric Chavez, Milton Bradley and Jason Kendall. After improving on the offensive end, they don't really have any other areas needing instant improvement. They have a quality defense and pitchers filled with talent. Their pitching is lead by Rich Harden and their bullpen has the 2005 rookie of the year winner in Huston Street with just under 30 saves last year. If they can pull all of this talent together and play as a team the whole season, they now have a contending team.

St. Louis Cardinals:
While the Cards let more players go than expected, they are keeping the 2005 Cy Young Winner (Carpenter) happy, their gold glove 3rd baseman (Rolen) should be fully recovered at the start of this season and Isringhausen is still one of the best closers in the NL. Jim Edmonds hopes his numbers rebound after the slight drop-off last season as he continues to make wonderful plays in center field. All of these players are centered around their triple crown threat and possible NL MVP, Albert Pujols. If their bats can nearly as hot as they were before the Rolen injury, look for them to be a contender as the season ends.

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Sleeper Teams:

Boston Red Sox:
Not thought of as a sleeper team last year after their 2004 championship, but after losing Johnny Damon to the Yankees, the stock on this team surely dropped. The media focused only on this movement, but as time went on, they began filling the other holes left in their roster. They did this by adding players such as Coco Crisp, Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez, J.T. Snow and Josh Beckett. If this team stays healthy, they will have a legitimate shot of going far in the playoffs. This is a big question though with their older and injury-prone lineup and is another reason the Sox are listed as a sleeper team.

L.A. Dodgers:
The Dodgers had the most players visit the DL last year and somehow they still finished They added Rafael Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra, Bill Mueller and Kenny Loften to a lineup which added J.D. Drew and Jeff Kent last season. They added pitchers such as Brett Tomko, J. Seo to the end of a rotation which already includes Brad Penny, Odalis Perez and Derek Lowe. Oh and one more thing, they have a closer by the name of Eric Gagne. You may know that the Dodgers would put “Game Over" on the big screen as the Dodgers had a 9th inning league lead and Gagne was on his way to the mound. If you did not realize this, you surely would understand why a home stadium may do this for their record-setting 84 consecutive save closer. If this new and improved lineup can give the Dodgers a lead going into the 9th and Gagne's arm is healthy, this could be a deadly team in a very weak division.

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Who wins the awards?

NL MVP — Albert Pujols (Cardinals):
While playing in a new ballpark, look for Pujols to continue his domination. He has been one of the best players in MLB history through his first five seasons and now he is 26 and should be hitting his peek sometime soon. Yes that's right, the best is yet to come from this young slugger. He showed us last season that he can even add a few stolen bases to his stat sheet. Don't expect a huge number of stolen bases, but with a healthy Scott Rolen back in the lineup, here is what you can look forward to seeing from this nears AL MVP: batting around .320, nearly 120 runs scored, more than 40 home runs, almost 120 RBIs and a sprinkle over 10 SBs.

AL MVP — Alex Rodriguez (Yankees)
With all the money he has around him in his lineup, how can one not like the 3rd hitter in a Yankees batting order? As he comes off one of the best years he has ever had, we like him to edge David Ortiz for one simple reason: a fielding 3rd baseman with similar numbers will get the nod over a DH. And with that being said, take a look at what number A-Rod will need to put up in order to achieve this honor: batting around .300, nearly 120 runs scored, more than 40 home runs, over 100 RBIs and somewhere around 15 SBs.

NL Cy Young — Jake Peavy (Padres)
As he is now fully recovered from his rib injury, look for Peavy to hit his stride early and continue building on his last two great seasons. The defense of the Padres' has been improved with the addition of Mike Cameron and that will surely be to Peavy's advantage. Other advantages he has include a pitcher-friendly ballpark and playing in the ‘weak' NL West. If he stays healthy this year, Peavy's numbers will look something like this: 16 wins, over 200 innings pitched and over 200 Ks with an ERA just under 2.90 with a WHIP slightly over 1.00.

AL Cy Young – Johan Santana (Twins)
He is arguably the best pitcher in baseball; a lefty who throws a mid 90's fastball, solid slider and a devastating change up. He is going to keep dominating batters at the play with his 2006 stats: 18 wins, with just over 200 innings pitch and nearly 230 K's, around a 2.90 ERA and WHIP just above the 1.00 mark.

AL Reliever of the Year – Joe Nathan (Twins)
While is ERA wasn't in the same place he liked it to be last season, his other numbers were right around the place you expect them to be. He topped 40 saves for his second straight year and we see him doing just that again this year. The rest of his stats could look something like this: 40-45 saves in about 75 innings pitched, he should be close to 90 K's with a 2.70 ERA and WHIP under 1.10.

NL Rookie of the Year – Prince Fielder (Brewers)
Price may be one of the only Brewers happy to see L. Overbay leaving Milwaukee as he now moves into a starting job at 1st base. With more powerful swing than most people may think, Price has a realistic opportunity to go yard more than 25 times this season.

AL Rookie of the Year – Kenji Johjima (Mariners)
It may not be fair to the rest of the rookies as this MLB rookie has plenty of experience playing professionally in Japan. He is a 30 year old rookie who has faced professional pitchers before some of these rookies could drive a car. A 30 year old who is a golden glove winning catcher and can hit for both power and average.

NL Manager of the Year – Grady Little (Dodgers)
Grady gets to walk into a team who was most the most injured in MLB last season. Surely as long as this does not repeat, the season will be an improvement this year. The Dodgers play in the weakest division (NL West) and all signs point to them sitting on top as the season ends. While there will be a few different reasons they make it to the top of this list, some of the credit, whether it's due or not, will fall to Grady Little's first year managerial skills.

AL Manager of the Year – Ken Macha (Athletics)
As stated above, Oakland's got the tools to make some waves this season. With the addition of Thomas' bat to compliment their pitching, the A's will do well and Macha will reap the benefits.

Good luck to you this baseball season. If you'd like help in making baseball picks this year, sign up for my free picks newsletter.

 

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