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2006 predictions reviewed

by Matt Smith

Whether under the auspices of a master fortune teller or more commonly as a “baseball expert”, many people like to share their pre-season predictions on who will finish where at the end of the upcoming baseball season. I like to join in with the fun and I will be sharing my “wisdom” with you tomorrow, but it’s only fair to preface my predictions by having an honest look at how last year’s turned out.

Let’s see who I picked in the American League:

AL West = Oakland

AL Central = Chicago

AL East = Yankees

Wild card = Red Sox.

My AL West prediction turned out quite well, but the standings probably weren’t too difficult to predict with the only real decision being whether you took the A’s or the Angels as topping the pile ahead of the Rangers and the Mariners. Most pundits went for the Angels (as they have done this year), but I couldn’t bet against my A’s.

To say I misjudged the Central would be too kind. I branded the Twins as looking like a “third place team” behind the White Sox and the Indians, although to be fair this was partly due to my (well-founded) concerns over the additions of White and Batista. The Twins only kicked into gear when they were kicked out of the line-up. There was no shame in being wrong on the Indians because virtually no one saw their poor 2006 season coming. Shamefully, the Tigers weren’t even considered worthy of a mention. I like to think my slight played a part in spurring them on!

As for the East, picking the Yankees over the Red Sox was a coin toss that could have gone either way. The Blue Jays proved me wrong by breaking the Yankees/Red Sox monopoly on the top two spots, but this was somewhat of a hollow victory as the strength of the Central meant that the East did not provide the wild card as I predicted.

So overall I got two right and two wrong, with my two correct choices largely being based on a pure guess and personal bias. Did I have more luck with the senior circuit?

NL East = Mets

NL Central = Cardinals

NL West = Padres

Wild card = Braves.

My prediction for the East was similar to many other people’s: it was hard to bet against the Braves continuing their streak, but in the end I couldn’t let the Braves’ previous form cloud my overall judgement that the Mets clearly had the stronger roster. I played safe by picking Atlanta for the wild card and made the decision on the basis that the weakness of the Nationals and the Marlins would prove decisive thanks to the imbalanced schedule. It turned out ,of course, that the Marlins surprised everyone and the Braves’ reign ended in a bit of a whimper.

The Cardinals were an easy pick as favourites for the Central simply because no other team looked particularly strong. The Astros appeared to be their main challengers on paper, but they had failed to rectify the weak spots in their line-up and would be without Roger Clemens for the first few months. The Reds had a surprisingly good season, although to an extent this was not so much due to them having a greatly improved team, more that the general standard in the National League enabled them to stay in the wild card running. Ultimately the Cardinals were the best of a fairly mediocre lot.

While the Central division was a disappointment (despite containing the eventual World Series winners), the NL West rebounded from a historically bad 2005 to be a very competitive division. This was exemplified by the West providing the NL wild card, something that few would have predicted before the season started (I certainly didn’t!). The Padres seemed to be the steady ship, well placed to win somewhere in the region of 85 to 90 games. The question was whether anyone else in the division could better it. You could paint various scenarios for the Dodgers and the Giants in which they could have won 90 games or 75. The Giants did get a good season from Bonds, but they didn’t get much else. The Dodgers were able to use a combination of veterans, rookies and some mid-season trades to put together a season good enough to end level with the Padres, without looking like being a major play-off threat. The West was a great battle in itself (the last placed Rockies only won 12 games less than the Padres and the Dodgers), but again this exciting competition was the consequence of fairly evenly matched teams rather than outstanding ballclubs slugging it out.

Therefore my overall prediction record was similar to the NL West. 5-3 was respectable enough without displaying any signs of genius.

I purposefully did not predict further than the regular season standings. Let’s be honest, even doing that is basically at best a series of calculated guesses beyond the extreme cases (e.g. the Yankees are going to be much better than the Orioles this year). Not that this is something to complain about. Far from it. Pre-season baseball predictions are fun because in most cases you genuinely cannot say for sure that you will be right on any of the picks. Compare that to pre-season predictions on who’s going to win the Premiership, finish in the top four Champions league positions, win the League cup, win the FA Cup etc. The saddest thing about football today is that you can describe it as being predictable. You certainly cannot say the same thing about baseball, although this doesn’t stop us all from trying to predict it anyway!

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