Setting the table

Before attempting to predict what will happen this baseball season, before laying a reputation on the line only to see it ruined by the All-Star break, here is an important disclaimer from reigning American League Most Valuable Player Alex Rodriguez.

"I think baseball has more parity now and most teams in spring training have a legitimate chance to do something in October," Rodriguez said. "I think the White Sox showed us that, and the Marlins M-5two years before showed us that, so it's no longer the days of 'This team is going to win, it is their birthright.'"


Brew Crew shows some hops

There has to be one surprise team making the playoffs each season, right? So why not the Milwaukee Brewers? The Houston Astros have taken a step backward, the Chicago Cubs are an enigma and the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are rebuilding. The St. Louis Cardinals will dominate the National League Central, but there's enough dead weight here to pad the Brewers' record for a wild-card berth. Besides, the Brewers have several budding stars in Ben Sheets, Rickie Weeks and Cecil Fielder's son, Prince.


Bonds gets to flex playoff muscle

The NL West is contractually obligated to send a team to the playoffs. And since whichever team emerges will lose in the first round, here's hoping it is the San Francisco Giants and star Barry Bonds. He is the sport's best showman, so let him have one more shot - pardon the pun - on the grandest of stages. Because when Bonds plays, it injects - sorry, another one - more excitement into the playoffs.

Cards win, Cards win

With a new stadium and the first World Series championship since 1982, it will be a good year in St. Louis. Third baseman Scott Rolen looks to be healthy again and the Cardinals' starting pitching might be baseball's best. They've been banging on the door, and finally Tony La Russa gets another ring - with a five-game victory over the Angels. Not a risky enough prediction for you? How about this: Fifth starter Sidney Ponson celebrates the title by spraying sparkling cider on his teammates.

Marlins win something

The Florida Guppies and their $19 million payroll will at least be able to boast one victory: M-5Outfielder Jeremy Hermida wins NL Rookie of the Year. In fact, the Marlins set a record for having 18 players receive at least one Rookie vote.

Grecian earns award

Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis, a longtime buddy of Hermida's, gets the same trophy in the AL. It's possible Markakis needs more seasoning. But after watching him this spring, it's easy to become a believer. Besides, Orioles fans deserve a bone after seeing that their team is picked for fourth place again by the hometown paper.


Catchers know best

Two former major league catchers will bring home Manager of the Year awards. The Angels' Mike Scioscia will pick up his second trophy, proving that neither Jose Guillen nor Frank Robinson gets to vote. In the NL, Milwaukee's Ned Yost wins and starts to get recognized outside the Yost family home.

No cheating Santana

Minnesota's Johan Santana is the best pitcher in baseball. Period. He deserved his second consecutive AL Cy Young Award last season but was penalized for winning "only" M-516 games. This season, he'll win 18 and the award again.

Breakthrough for Sheets

The Brewers' Ben Sheets, one of the better young pitchers in baseball, will emerge from the shadows in Milwaukee and win the NL Cy Young Award. He's M-5hurting now, so this might be a reach. But if Milwaukee does surprise, Sheets will be the biggest benefactor.


No disrespecting 'The Shef'

Outfielder Gary Sheffield groused last month because the Yankees hadn't picked up his M-5$13 million club option for 2007. They will eventually. Sheffield, M-537, has finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting six times. He'll get his lifetime achievement award this year in the form of an MVP.

No debate this time

Albert Pujols had his MVP hands full last year with Atlanta's M-5Andruw Jones. Not in 2006. Pujols will win his M-5second consecutive award in a laugher. With Bonds getting ready to hang it up, Pujols should claim the unofficial title of baseball's most feared hitter.