Sep 30, 2008, 06:15AM

Lessons Learned

This season's baseball predictions were about as wrong as could be—which is to say they were par for the course.

I’m not a professional sportswriter so I can only imagine looking inside a swell dining room, nose pressed against window, where MLB’s Skull & Bones equivalent, the Baseball Writers Association, votes on the various individual accomplishment awards prior to the playoffs. Predictions, in baseball like politics, made months before the results are in, are more often than not wrong, and this year I racked up some real doozies. Nevertheless, before donning a richly-deserved hairshirt and fessing up, here’s to one more round of picks, knowing that percentage-wise, my chances are much better.

First, the gimmes: Cleveland’s Cliff Lee takes the A.L. Cy Young, a nearly unanimous choice with the exception of a few complete-game fetishists who’ll give the nod to Toronto’s tireless Roy Halladay, a nearly unflappable sure thing, year in and year out, who will probably never win a World Series ring since he plays for a team that consistently underachieves in the American League East division. Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon, quickly gaining the reputation as a brainy and quirky managerial maestro—and let’s be honest, how many people even knew who this guy was five months ago?—wins that award. The Rays’ Evan Longoria and the Cubs’ Geovany Soto walk away with Rookie of the Year for the A.L. and N.L., respectively, and not a peep of protest will be heard.

As some readers know, I’m a Red Sox fan, but writers across the country (save a few Twins diehards) are also talking up Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, without whom the Sox would’ve finished the season in Yanks/Blue Jays territory. The choice here is Pedroia, Boston’s reigning “Dirt Dog,” a smallish second baseman who tied with Ichiro for most hits in the A.L., led in doubles and runs, finished second in batting average to Joe Mauer, stole 20 bases and was caught just once, ought to receive a gold glove. The Boston Globe’s Bob Hohler, on Sept. 28, had a great lead to his story about Pedroia: “The boy was barely out of diapers when he discovered a tiny wooden bat and started swinging at everything that moved: tennis balls, ping-pong balls, balls of tinfoil. Then came a baby goose. By the time Debbie Pedroia rushed to the scene, it was too late. The family’s new pet had bobbed its fuzzy head into her 18-month-old son’s strike zone… Goodbye, goose.”

You can argue all you want for the Cards’ Albert Pujols, the N.L.’s A-Rod, but do the Phils win their division without Ryan Howard’s 48 homers and 146 r.b.i.’s? I don’t think so. I’m also on the train for the Giants’ Tim Linecum for N.L. Cy Young (17-5, 2.66 ERA, strikeout monster) over Brandon Webb, and, since I really couldn’t care less, here’s a vote for Sweet Lou Piniella, manager of the Cubs, if only because he starred in one of the great television commercials during the summer, shilling for Aquafina, during the season.

Well, that was the easy part.

On to the playoffs: The Angels get revenge on their post-season tormentors, the Bosox, by sweeping the series decisively. Sox fans will moan that key players (Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew and Coco Crisp, possibly Josh Beckett) were injured, but hard cheese, fellas. Anyone who saw last year’s Halos hobble into Boston—Garret Anderson’s pinkeye personified the broken-down team—will have no sympathy, and rightfully so.

The Rays, playing at the justly-maligned Tropicana Field (which recalls Simple Minds’ greatest song “Up on the Catwalk”) trounce either the White Sox or Twins (playoff game today), two teams that valiantly attempted to piss away the A.L. Central division title during the last two weeks of the season.

Rays over the Angels in six games, with Longoria as the MVP of the series.

Over in the National League, I’m rooting against the Dodgers, both on long-term principle and because of the presence of Serial Senior Basher Manny Ramirez, with apologies to manager Joe Torre, who got screwed at the end of last year by the Yanks. The Cubs take them in four games. There’s no way the Cubs lay down this year in the playoffs—with that 100-year onus hanging over their fans’ heads—and they methodically pick apart Torre’s squad, sending home that manager early once again.

The Phils and Brewers match-up is far more interesting, if only to see if C.C. Sabathia can pitch on two days rest. Still, with Howard, Brad Lidge, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and co., the Brewers will have to settle for just returning to the postseason. Prince Fielder, frustrated by hitting NO homers, recants on his vegetarian vow and actually loses weight before spring training next February. Rollins, after a weird season, takes the star turn and redeems himself for earlier bouts of Robinson Cano-like laziness before the title crunch.

Cubs take out the Phils in seven games and the unlikely MVP is Ted Lilly.

Finally, as the risk of embarrassment grows, I’m going with the Rays to win the World Series in five games, and Longoria once again takes the MVP trophy. Good thing, too, since it says here that in ’09, the Rays tank, decimated by pitching injuries, finishing even behind the Blue Jays.

Suddenly, I’ve lost my appetite for self-flagellation, but fair is fair. On March 31 I ventured the guess that the Yanks’ Phil Hughes would win the A.L. Cy Young and, as it turned out, he didn’t win a single game; the Cubs wouldn’t make the playoffs; Johan Santana would blow out his arm and not pitch again until ’09 and the Phils would win the World Series in six games over the Tigers. Yeesh. At least I did call for the Indians having a lousy season and placed the Phils in the post-season, but even graded on a curve my predictions, and this is quite Christian, deserve a D.

Oh, I’m also taking a bite out of a mildewed fedora for recklessly asserting in mid-summer that the Baltimore Orioles would finish the season ahead of the Rays. I should’ve seen it coming, since the O’s are notorious for post-All Star game fades, but maybe all those games I attended at nearby Camden Yards (where a new low for attendance since the facility opened in ’92 was set) colored my vision. Well, probably not, and since I don’t want to weasel out of having a cracked crystal ball, let’s just leave it that although Baltimore had another awful season, I still immensely enjoyed going to the games there. (In fairness, when the O’s were playing a meaningless game, I did have one eye on the scoreboard to see how the Bosox were faring.)

My wife, two sons and I went to last game of the year at Camden Yards, a 10-1 shellacking by the Jays, but there was no feeling of bitterness among the alleged 18,000 or so fans. In conversations with fans in our section, the prevailing mood was a wistful passing of a six-month activity, and the weirdly positive vibe was kind of contagious. There was a terrible local television advertisement hyping “Birdland,” in which a young guy says, with air quotes no less, “This is where I spend my sick days,” that ran even when the O’s were losing game after game, but the franchise has to try something. Once again, it doesn’t appear that Baltimore will make a return to at least semi-excellence until Cal Ripken Jr. heads an investor group to buy the club from Peter Angelos.

  • Interesting predictions Russ. I, however, am going to stick with my Bo Sox. I just don't see them losing to the Angels despite the desire for revenge. Besides, Boston is the only team that can get me through the post-season.

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  • It's absolutely impossible to predict something like sports, I don't know why people keep trying (unless of course they want to make money, which is probably the case). Baseball predictions are just about as useless as a Farmer's Almanac.

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  • The articles on this site are SO long! It's hard to get through them... Instead of writing 1 super long article per week, you should write 2 shorter articles... Don't you realize we live in a time of short attention spans?! These articles combined with my Pumpkin Spice Latte are not a good mix, I lose interest kinda quickly... I also have a hard time getting through the articles because I'm interrupted at work all the time, so I forget what I was even reading about. Consider writing shorter pieces, and I bet you'll get more readers! :)

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  • Dustin Pedroia looked good tome. Tim Lincecum was 18-5 while his team was 72-90. Brandon Webb was 22-7 with his team at 82-80. How do you choose? Same kind of results for Cliff Lee. Maybe Roy Halladay will make the Hall of Fame. That would be pretty good compensation. Predictions? Too hard. How about hopes? Cubs and Rays in the Series, just for the sake of change.

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  • The Rays won't win it all, the Cubs will, simple as that. Longoria won't get the rookie, alexei will. And nobody's opening season predictions are right, mine weren't even close. I had the O's winning the division, a little off on that one.

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  • Sorry, fans of any other team: the Angels rule! And the team, led by Hunter and Tex and Lackey and Frankie are bringing back the WS trophy where it belongs: Los Angeles.

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  • I agree with almost everything here, except Ryan Howard for MVP. The guy struck out 199 times this year! He’s ranked 14th in the NL in OPS (.882) and ranked 60th in the NL in batting average (.251). I know he was big for the Phillies this year, but I would actually lean toward C.C. Sabathia for MVP. I know that this would never happen because Sabathia is a pitcher and was only in the league for half a season. However, Sabathia meets the “would his team be where they are without him” test, AND his stats are great across the board. I agree with your prediction about the Angels over the Red Sox, but not just because of the revenge factor. I think everyone has been seriously underestimating the lack of Manny Ramirez in the Red Sox lineup. When I watched the Red Sox in the playoffs in the past, it seems like Manny has batted 1.000. The lineup just does not seem as scary without him in it. I know he butted heads with the organization, but I never actually thought they would trade him.

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  • The Red Sox had to get rid of Ramirez, despite the numbers he had when not staging work stoppages. He was a poison in the clubhouse, and though their lineup is less imposing without him, it was better for the team. But the Angels will win because they're the better team this season, have great pitching and some pop in the lineup.

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  • Despite solid pitching across the rotation I cant see Boston overcoming Angels. Tampa to beat Chicago, Dodgers to take it all in the NL. and then Dear God please let the Rays complete the fairytale. As an Indians fan I have to root against the romance of a Cubs victory as we're next on the list of long-stretch without winning WS.

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  • how does one choose, ultimately, in contests like Lincecum/Santana? CC/Manny? do teammates, agents, managers etc...lobby sportwriters? are there any brown envelopes involved?

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  • Love the line about "brown envelopes." That might push the already receding steroid-debate aside. I bet there's a fair amount of lobbying involved, sort of like the Oscars, but in a much lower key way. Just my opinion, but I don't see how a guy who splits a season between two leagues wins an MVP. Games in April, as the cliche goes, count as much as those in September.

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  • While my team, the Braves, have given me plenty of reason to tune out this post-season, I enjoyed the way you framed this year's playoffs. However, I think the Angels are going to win it all - powered of course by Mark Teixeira.

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  • Oh, I don't know Valerie. Your above comment makes little sense to me. There are plenty of short articles on Splice. Most aren't longer than daily newspaper reviews or opinion articles. Do we really need another blurby, celebrity-drenched website?

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