Looking for a ringer, try San Diego

Apr 6, 2004 6:12 AM

The beauty of baseball is the unknown.

Two years ago, the best player after two weeks was Montreal catcher Michael Barrett, who batted .441 with four homers and 15 RBI through 11 games. Last season, the Kansas City Royals opened 3-0 for the first time in 25 years.

Now all we have to do is figure out who will open, say 5-0, and which will stumble out of the gate 0-5. Will Detroit lose over $4,500 in bets for the year, or can we ride what Seattle did a couple of seasons back when they eclipsed $5,000 on the good side.

Who stumbles early:

Kansas City: Last year the Royals opened as home underdogs the first three games against the White Sox and swept the series. Chicago never recovered. This year, the Royals again host Chicago. We guarantee the Royals won’t go 3-0. That’s because it’s just a two-game series.

NY Mets: Of all the places to open the season, major league baseball chose Atlanta. You can say much of the reason why the Braves have gone over an entire decade winning the AL East is because dominate the Mets in Atlanta. Ex-Braves pitcher Tom Glavine was lit up. He’ll pitch.

Colorado: The Rockies can’t win on the road. So what happens? They open up at Arizona and Los Angeles. We can easily see Colorado no better than 1-5 in their division. The good news is they return to Coors Field the following Monday against Arizona.

San Francisco: The Giants open at Houston and then head to improved San Diego this week without top starting pitcher Jason Schmidt and closer Robb Nen. Plus all the hoopla about Barry Bonds and the steroids can only be a distraction. A slow start wouldn’t surprise us.

Who begins strong:

Houston: We see the Astros no worse than 4-2 after the first week after hosting the Giants and visiting lowly Milwaukee. Only shortstop Adam Everett (face) is in danger of missing the opener due to injury and he is listed as questionable. That’s a big advantage.

Philadelphia: The Phillies open at Pittsburgh and later visit World Series champ Florida with the good possibility of missing Josh Beckett. Philly then opens its new ballpark Monday against Cincinnati for three games. The heat is on Larry Bowa not to stumble early.

Baltimore: The Birds may be the most improved team in the American League after adding Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez. Baltimore hosts Boston without Nomar, Trot Nixon and a less than 100 percent Pedro, then visits Tampa Bay. Ponson could open 2-0.

Oakland: After possibly sweeping Texas at home behind Hudson, Zito and Mulder, the A’s get Seattle on the rebound from Anaheim.

And what about Detroit, you ask? Acquiring Ivan Rodriguez from the Marlins can only help. But for the Tigers to reach the projected "over / under" win total of 65 games, they would have to improve some 20 games in the standings. We’re still betting against Detroit and hoping for a $2,500 profit.

On the plus side, we like San Diego. The Padres have a legitimate shot at winning the NL West, but won’t carry the respect on the daily money line for quite some time. While under the radar screen, we think San Diego will be a good investment especially at the new ballpark. Look what new yards did for San Francisco and Colorado!

You can check the shaded area for our regular season predictions. We also see big seasons for sluggers Richie Sexson (Arizona), Adam Dunn (Cincinnati), Brian Giles (San Diego), Magglio Ordonez (White Sox), Troy Glaus (Anaheim), Shawn Green (Los Angeles) and pitchers Javier Vasquez (Yankees), Tim Hudson (Oakland), Randy Johnson (Arizona), Kerry Wood (Chicago Cubs).

Of course, we’ll change all our picks next month when we find out we’re wrong.