Guess what? Yankees best

Apr 5, 2005 9:00 AM

"Play ball!"

The two most famous words in American sports will be uttered for real this week as major league baseball begins the 2005 season. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox opened the season this past Sunday evening and over the following couple of days the other 28 teams begin their quest to unseat Boston as World Series champions.

Boston and the Yankees are clearly the class of not just the American League’s East but in all of baseball. Both are projected to challenge 100 wins for the regular season and each has one of the most formidable lineups, starting pitching rotations and closers seen in recent seasons.

In the AL East there is a sizeable gap (perhaps 15 to 20 games) between the top two teams and the rest of the division. Baltimore is given the best chance of playing .500 baseball, but don’t be surprised if Toronto (with Roy Halladay at the top of the rotation) edges the Orioles for third. Tampa Bay should finish at the bottom. Baltimore will be a fun team to watch with its explosive offense and lack of starting pitching. Consider playing the OVER in many Baltimore games.

Minnesota is winners of three straight Central Division titles and has the best young pitcher in the game. With the dominance of Boston and the Yankees it is very unlikely that the second place team in either the Central or West will be in position to make a run for the wild card.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are the clear team to beat in the AL West. The starting rotation is adequate though not outstanding. The offense is one of the best in baseball. Oakland, Seattle and Texas are all evenly matched with Seattle perhaps the best of the three. After winning 91 or more games in each of the four seasons from 2000 through 2003, the Mariners fell off the edge of the earth to win just 63 games in 2004.

The National League forecasts as being very competitive with Atlanta, Florida and the revamped New York Mets as the main threats to win the division.

Philadelphia was a major disappointment in 2004 and would normally be a chic pick to surprise in 2005. The ex-Expos are now in Washington and that stability is worth perhaps a half dozen games in the standings.

St. Louis could win the Central by double digits. Chicago’s Cubs are the most likely challenger, but with starters Kerry Wood and Mark Prior having a history of being injury prone they could just as easily finish 10 games below .500 as 10 games above.

Much like Baltimore in the AL, look for Cincinnati to be involved in more OVERs than UNDERs.

The absence of Barry Bonds from the San Francisco lineup for an undetermined length of time makes the Giants prospects very iffy at best. San Diego enters the season as the best balanced team in the NL West following the offseason moves by Los Angeles. The Dodgers will be hard pressed to finish above .500.

If injuries do not hurt any of the contenders, the pick is for the Yankees to exact their revenge on Boston in the ALCS and advance to the World Series.

St. Louis is the favorite to win the NL Central, though not projected to make it back to the World Series. That honor is expected to go to the winners of the NL East, the Florida Marlins. San Diego is the projected winner of the NL West. Atlanta is my pick for the wild card.

When it’s finally over, we see the Yanks again as World Series champs taking out Florida in 5.

Here’s a look at four series this opening weekend.

Nationals at Marlins: Each have decent starting pitching but Florida has the more potent offense. Both teams are very well managed. Play Florida at —125 or less. Bet Washington as a dog of at least +160. Play UNDER 9.

Reds at Astros: Houston has the edge in the starting rotation and in the bullpen. Cincinnati is better at the plate. Play Houston and UNDER if starting either Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte or Roy Oswalt. In starts by other Houston hurlers the preferred play will be Reds +120 and OVER.

Indians at Tigers: These teams are fairly even with starting pitching mostly unproven but with potential. Both offenses are capable of crooked numbers with decent power. Play OVER 9, and the dog at +120 in each game.

Rangers at M’s: Texas improved from 71 to 89 wins despite woeful starting pitching. Seattle went from 93 wins to just 63 last season. On balance Seattle has the better roster. The M’s at -140 should win two of the three games. Play OVER 9 or less.