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2006 MLB Outlook: Seriously, are we still talking about steroids?

By Chris Ruddick
MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2006 Major League Baseball season is upon us and for the second straight year a steroid controversy will be hovering over Opening Day.

On Thursday, Commissioner Bud Selig announced that MLB will investigate Barry Bonds with regards to his possible past use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs. Other players - past and present - will also be investigated, but make no mistake, this is all about Bonds, the man chasing the sport's most cherished records.

I am no fan of Bonds and I personally believe he did knowingly take steroids, but this all seems like a witch hunt to me and the powers that be will not be satisfied until they find something definitive on him. And for all you West Coasters that called me a racist a few weeks ago, I also think that Jason Giambi and Mark McGwire took steroids as well. So save your emails.

Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, who will head up the investigation, better not make this a glorified book report on Game of Shadows, the book that alleged Bonds took just about everything under the sun to enhance his game. If they are going to do this they better do it right. Look into McGwire. Look into Sammy Sosa. Look into all of them.

Barry Bonds
Is anyone going to be surprised by the results, though? Nobody is going to be bowled over that Barry Bonds, or Mark McGwire, did steroids.
Is anyone going to be surprised by the results, though? Nobody is going to be bowled over that Bonds, or McGwire, did steroids. Maybe Selig's next investigation should be whether or not Michael Jackson digs little boys.

Let's be honest, this just a way for Selig, the same man who turned a blind eye towards this issue for the last decade while baseball was reaping the profits during the McGwire-Sosa home run race in the late 90s, to save face by acting as if he is doing something. Too bad it is about five years too late, though.

I just don't get what the end result of all this is going to be. This has the potential to be the worst scandal in the history of baseball. In what way at all is this good for the game? How far back are they going to look? Are there going to be suspensions? Is MLB not going to celebrate Bonds' upcoming home run milestones if he is, in fact, found guilty?

Thankfully, things will get going ON the field in full force on Sunday night, as the defending World Series champion Chicago White Sox get the 2006 campaign underway against the Cleveland Indians.

The White Sox actually got better this offseason, as they added righthander Javier Vazquez to an already super rotation that included Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras. They also picked up slugger Jim Thome, who should bounce back after an injury-plagued 2005, to provide Paul Konerko with some much needed protection. Also, rookie centerfielder Brian Anderson will be a more than adequate replacement for Aaron Rowand.

Who will compete with the Sox? Well, the New York Yankees are always a threat, but Chicago's main competition could come from its own division in the form of the Cleveland Indians. Who knows how things will shake out. The last five champions have been surprises. Will this year be any different?

Let's take a look at some of the teams that could challenge Chicago this season.

AL EAST

New York Yankees - Johnny Damon is an upgrade in center over Bernie Williams, but his true impact will be felt in the lineup, as he gives the Yankees their first bona fide leadoff hitter since Chuck Knoblauch. Offensively the Yanks could approach 1,000 runs, but they will only go as far as their pitching staff will take them. Either way, though, they should still win their ninth straight AL East title.

Boston Red Sox - Losing Damon to the Yanks will hurt, but Coco Crisp is a more than serviceable replacement. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are as lethal a combination as any in baseball. Curt Schilling needs to bounce back and be the ace he was in 2004. Josh Beckett was a huge pickup, but he must stay healthy if the Red Sox plan on making the playoffs. If things sour early, don't be surprised if Terry Francona is sent packing, regardless of a contract extension this spring.

Toronto Blue Jays - General manager J.P. Ricciardi tried to keep up with the free-spending Yankees and Red Sox this offseason and doled out over $100 million to A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan. He also added Troy Glaus, Lyle Overbay and Bengie Molina to a lineup that could compete with Boston and Cleveland for a wild card spot. Roy Halladay should be back in Cy Young form, but Burnett is already hurt.

AL CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians - Cleveland was neck-and-neck with Chicago down the stretch last season and maybe this is the year the young Indians put it all together. Travis Hafner is an MVP candidate, while youngsters Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta and Ben Broussard give manager Eric Wedge one of the best lineups in the game. C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee head up a steady rotation. If there is one weakness, it is their bullpen. Do you really trust Bob Wickman in a big spot?

AL WEST

Texas Rangers - Probably the best lineup in the West. Hopefully, the additions of Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla and Adam Eaton to the rotation will be enough for Buck Showalter's club to get by. Millwood led the AL in ERA last season, but probably won't have the same success in hitter-friendly Ameriquest Field. However, he should be good enough and 15-18 wins is not out of the question. First baseman Mark Teixeira will be the league's MVP.

Oakland Athletics - Probably the best pitching in the division. Hopefully the team can work out a long-term deal with ace Barry Zito. If not, look for the team to dump him in July. Volatile outfielder Milton Bradley will turn out to be one of the best pickups this offseason.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - The best mix of pitching and hitting in the West. I don't know if there is enough in the lineup, though, to compliment perennial MVP candidate Vladimir Guerrero. The loss of Bengie Molina will hurt, but rookie Jeff Mathis is a star in the making.

NL EAST

Atlanta Braves - Until I see the body I am not declaring this team dead. They have won the division each and every season since 1991, and why should this year be any different? The Mets will be the trendy pick and the Phils will fight to the end, but this is still the Braves' division to lose even without pitching coach Leo Mazzone

New York Mets - General manager Omar Minaya has put together a pretty decent lineup, but someone should have told him that teams need to pitch and play defense as well. After Pedro the Mets staff is extremely suspect, and they will probably have to go out and make a play for a frontline starter at some point. They will compete for a wild card spot.

Philadelphia Phillies - The hiring of new general manager Pat Gillick was widely applauded, but nothing really came from it. A lot of talk, but pretty much the same team as last season. With glaring holes in the rotation, Gillick brought in Ryan Franklin, hardly the ace the Philly faithful were hoping for. Reigning Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard has followed up his super second half with an amazing spring and should hit over 40 homers. And no, Jimmy Rollins will not break Joe DiMaggio's record.

NL CENTRAL

St. Louis Cardinals - Still the best team in the National League by a lot. If Sidney Ponson can stay away from the bars and the fast food joints he could help. Having a healthy Scott Rolen is as good as any free agent acquisition in the league. Rolen's return makes Albert Pujols an even more dangerous hitter, if that is possible.

Houston Astros - Will he or won't he? The Astros season probably hinges on whether or not Roger Clemens will come back. I suspect he probably will and will once again be phenomenal and keep Houston in playoff contention. By the way, did anyone catch the blurb about Clemens this past week that he actually puts icy hot on his crotch prior to his starts? Dude should be in the Hall just for that.

Milwaukee Brewers - Could be the wild card of the division. With leading Rookie of the Year candidate Prince Fielder and young second baseman Rickie Weeks, the Brewers could be ready to turn the corner, provided Ned Yost gets 25+ starts from Ben Sheets.

NL WEST

San Diego Padres - With veterans Mike Cameron, Mike Piazza and Vinny Castilla this team is in a win-now mode. The Padres seem to have a good mix, both in the lineup and on the hill, of veteran leadership and young players. If Jake Peavy is healthy he will compete for an NL Cy Young. There is no reason why San Diego should not expect another trip to the postseason.

San Francisco Giants - If Barry Bonds plays 120 games this team can win a division. If he doesn't then the team will not even be in the hunt. I guess that is why he has seven MVP awards. The steroid investigation will not faze him. It hasn't yet, so why would it start to now? He should pass Ruth sometime in May. The question is: will he ever get the chance to get to Aaron?

BEST OF THE REST

Los Angeles Dodgers - Grady Little and Nomar Garciaparra will not make a difference. The Dodgers always have a knack for disappointing and this year will be no different. Having Eric Gagne hopefully healthy all season will help, though.

Pittsburgh Pirates - Jason Bay is the best player you have never heard of. This is the year he becomes a household name. Unfortunately, the Pirates don't have much else. New manager Jim Tracy will help, but he needs some of that young pitching to pan out.

Minnesota Twins - Ron Gardenhire always has his team competitive, but they are just not up to par with Chicago and Cleveland. Johan Santana, though, will again be in the Cy Young mix.

Chicago Cubs - Plain and simple: If Kerry Wood and Mark Prior can stay healthy, they are contenders. If not, they might be the worse team in the division. With both of them already on the disabled list things aren't off to a great start. They will probably wind up somewhere in the middle.

Washington Nationals - Nice move getting Alfonso Soriano. He didn't want to play the outfield for the New York Yankees, why did general manager Jim Bowden think he would do it for the Nationals? At some point that whole situation will blow up and the team will deal him for basically nothing. The Soriano deal will eventually cost Bowden and manager Frank Robinson their jobs.

Detroit Tigers - Jim Leyland will obviously make a difference. Probably a year or two away, though, from competing with Chicago and Cleveland. Kenny Rogers will be a great tutor to a young staff. Just keep him away from the cameramen.

Seattle Mariners - Felix Hernandez is sensational. His progression will be one of the more interesting story lines of the season.

Arizona Diamondbacks - Really young, but will improve from last season.

Colorado Rockies - Jeff Francis and Jason Jennings are two of the best young pitchers in baseball. Too bad they pitch at Coors Field.

Baltimore Orioles - The best news out of Orioles camp is the possible divorce/ separation of Kris Benson and his attention-whore wife, Anna. Think maybe the Mets are kicking themselves now for making that trade? Mazzone will do wonders for a young staff.

Florida - First-year manager Joe Girardi should have his hands full with an extremely young team. He still has Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, though, and outfielder Jeremy Hermida could be the league's top rookie.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays - With a plethora of young talent about to invade St. Petersburg, this could be the last year that the Devil Rays are lumped in with the have-nots. Everyone is raving about new manager Joe Maddon.

Cincinnati Reds - At least fans in the Queen City have the Bengals to look forward to.

Kansas City Royals - The good news is that they probably won't lose 106 games this season. The bad news is that they are still the worst team in baseball.

AL PREDICTIONS

NY Yankees (AL East) over Cleveland (wild card) in 5 games Chicago (AL Central) over Texas (AL West) in 4 games NY Yankees over Chicago in 7 games

NL PREDICTIONS

St. Louis (NL Central) over NY Mets (wild card) in 3 games Atlanta (NL East) over San Diego (NL West) in 5 games St. Louis over Atlanta in 6 games

WORLD SERIES

NY Yankees over St. Louis in 6 games.

AWARDS

AL MVP - Mark Teixeira AL CY Young - Mark Buehrle AL Rookie of Year - Brian Anderson AL Manager of Year - Buck Showalter AL Comeback Player - Jim Thome First AL Manger Fired - Terry Francona

NL MVP - Albert Pujols NL Cy Young - Jake Peavy NL Rookie of Year - Jeremy Hermida NL Manager - Bruce Bochy NL Comeback Player - Scott Rolen First NL Manager Fired - Frank Robinson

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.
Chris Ruddick


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