The sign baseball is approaching is not the first pitch of spring training, but the initial sighting of projected "over / under" win totals.
Off the top, we’re running over to Palms and betting the Yankees at 99.5. On paper, 100 wins would seem assured with A-Rod, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez added to the roster.
If you like the Yankees, then the Red Sox should also be appealing at 96.5 in the Palms Race and Sports Book. After all, Boston is rated on par to the Bronx Bombers with that lethal starting rotation of Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.
The Palms also released odds for the most wins by a pitcher in the 2004 regular season (next week’s story) and the rest of the "over / under" victory totals are listed below.
Here’s what looks good to us early. Of course, that can change depending on injuries and arrests.
San Diego: (64-98 LY): Maybe you can shop other than Palms for a better deal, but we recommend "over" the 82 that LVSC opened with. The Padres were done in spring training last year when Phil Nevin went down. Now San Diego has the offense to go with one of the best young pitching staffs in baseball. Add crafty vet David Wells to the fold, and we see SD going from last to first in its new stadium. Also look for a big year from 3B Sean Burroughs.
Colorado (74-88 LR): This is a no-brainer. Take "over" 73Â½. The NL West figures to be down overall this year, so if the Rockies merely match last year’s record, you win. We think Colorado will improve. At least you know how great these guys are at Coors Field. If the Rocks can go 50-31 at home, we’re toasting! Moving Shawn Chacon to the bullpen could pay big dividends as can a rehabilitated starter Scott Elarton. Colorado has plenty of firepower. Now, if they can just win on the road.
Anaheim (77-85 LR): The Angels have to exceed 91 wins, but we think they will and return to the top of the AL West. Everything that went right in 2002, went awry last season. Troy Glaus is back and Bartolo Colon now gives the Angels the No. 1 starter they lacked. All the talk about the Red Sox and Yankees could fuel Anaheim to another visit to the World Series. Bring that monkey back!
Montreal (83-79): The projection is 72Â½ wins. You have to go "under" with the Expos losing Vazquez and Vlad Guerrero. After all, how many hits can a franchise take before it sinks to the bottom. The Expos were great last year. We expect a major dropoff in wins and, hopefully, a better place to play next season.
Florida (81-81): This wasn’t the offseason fire sale of 1998, but losing Ivan Rodriguez will be large. The Marlins remind us of the Angels, a team that will get its share of bad breaks this season, but have the foundation intact for a run at the NL East next year. Asking Josh Beckett to produce over 162 games is the key to the season. We think Josh has all the tools, but the Marlins look like a club that will hover around .500 before slipping a game or two below.
Minnesota (90-72): After two straight AL Central titles, we see the Twins falling back into the pack as the division tightens up. Losing catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants will hurt the Twins. Minnesota remains solid, but we see attrition and self-doubt creeping in this season. The 84Â½ victories appears high. A .500 season and more problems against the Yankees looms ahead.
ONES TO WATCH:
Orioles (71-91): Baltimore has finally gotten serious, spending money for Tejada, Palmeiro and Javy Lopez. But, they’re in the AL with Boston and the Yanks. We’re leaning "over" 81.
Mets (66-95): Hey, did you hear New York acquired a rich shortstop? Yeah, Kaz Matsui. If the Japanese import is anything like Hideki, the Mets will steal some headlines from the Yanks. Strictly wait and see for now.
Royals (83-79): Kansas City doesn’t figure to equal that great start of a year ago, but this is a talented