Still to come will be a winter full of hirings, firings, blockbuster trades and free-agent movement that can’t be factored in. There also will be injuries and unexpected breakdowns that will turn potential champions into playoff spectators.
And all of that after we have been thrown the biggest curve of all — the October when the conventional and the expected became endangered species. The postseason when an 83-win team with a losing record in the second half won the World Series. Over a team that also had a losing record in the second half, and choked away its division title on the last day of the regular season.
We saw a rookie with the fewest wins and second-highest ERA of any Game 1 starter in World Series history not only win that game, but dominate it. We saw a .216 regular-season hitter become one of the toughest outs in the world champions’ lineup. We saw a pitcher who was designated for assignment during an 8-14 regular season pitch a gem in the World Series clincher. And of course, the World Series Most Valuable Player was a 5-7 dynamo who has been an overachiever his entire career.
You could have been spotted the four first-round winners — Detroit, Oakland, St. Louis and the New York Mets — and still not gotten this World Series winner right. So with this backdrop, we try the slippery slope of selecting a winner of the 2007 World Series.
Following the Tigers’ unlikely rise from 71 wins to the American League pennant, it will be trendy to take a shot at a sub-.500 team rising to the top. Good luck. But here are a couple of possibilities:
So we’ll stick to the more conventional top-tier candidates, thank you. In the American League, that means:
Toronto: You have to give ownership credit for spending money, and they figure to spend more this winter. But, wrong division, wrong time. Playing the Yankees and Red Sox 36 times a season takes its toll on wild card hopes.
Boston: By his own admission, GM Theo Epstein hasn’t done much right since the improbable World Series title of 2004. As a result, it’s going to take more than one offseason to put things back together again.
Oakland: They finally got past the first round of the playoffs, but name a team that has lost three front-line starting pitchers in a three-year span and won a World Series. (We’re assuming Barry Zito’s departure, of course). An interesting thing to watch is who will become Billy Beane’s new manager. But until a new stadium is built and payroll constraints ease, winning it all is going to be a difficult proposition.
Minnesota: Francisco Liriano’s elbow woes persist, and Brad Radke won’t be around any more. But you know the Twins will have three of the league’s best players in Johan Santana, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, plus Torii Hunter for at least one more season.
Detroit: The good news is the young starters and relievers could get better. The bad news is all their creaky veterans somehow stayed healthy, but will be another year older in 2007. And as the White Sox found out this season, it’s much tougher when you’re expected to win.
New York: Speaking of old … Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Gary Sheffield, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi — the 35-plus crowd takes up too much of this roster. And the mix of too many All-Stars isn’t working. There is no sense of team here, and you can’t buy that, either.
Chicago: Big changes could be coming on the South Side, where the bullpen, the left side of the infield and two outfield spots could have a different look. How GM Kenny Williams handles this winter will be crucial, but his first priority should be to upgrade the bullpen.
Los Angeles: They didn’t pull the trigger to add offense when they desperately needed it, and it cost them. They won’t make that mistake this winter, when you can count on a big bat being added. And you have to figure a Mike Scioscia team will play better fundamentally and defensively than in 2006. There should be enough pitching to make an extended run, so here is your AL pennant winner.
HBT: Former commissioner Fay Vincent laid out a series of improvements that he believes would upgrade major league umpiring.
World Series, in pictures
See highlights from the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.