2003 EMBA Predictions

- Eddie Milner

Two or three new teams join the playoff fray, and one of them makes some noise at the end.

National League

Eastern Division

Same song, second verse.

Harrisburg is the best team in the EMBA. Barry Bonds, Miguel Tejada, and Mike Sweeney are the big three who are supported by the likes of Andruw Jones and Luis Castillo. Roy Oswalt, Odalis Perez, and Ramon Ortiz give the Heroes three solid starters, and they are backed by the three-headed monster of a bullpen, Arthur Rhodes, Jason Isringhausen, and Darren Holmes. The Heroes have no holes in their lineup. Prediction - 1st place, over 100 wins.

Irishtown made two big trades in the off-season. The first brought Gary Sheffield and Herb Perry to the lineup, and the second added Steve Reed to the pen. With already a solid four-man rotation of Derek Lowe, Randy Wolf, Kip Wells, and Kerry Wood, the Legends needed Reed to help Buddy Groom hold those late inning leads. Despite down years from Barry Larkin and Roberto Alomar, the offense is servicable with the aforementioned Sheffield, Brian Giles, and Luis Gonzalez. Depth at catcher, first, and third is a concern...where is Gene Tenace when you need him? Prediction - 2nd place, in a battle with Strongsville for the wildcard.

New Oxford has added some pitching in Mark Prior and LaTroy Hawkins, and they've dealt for Sammy Sosa, but the net result in the win column will not be very noticable. The Lions lack a leadoff hitter and a true centerfielder. The bats at catcher and 2nd are weak, and their is no big name stopper in the rotation. I see a lot of Ws on the pitching staff, and I'm not talking wins. Prediction - 3rd place, a few games short of .500.

Heidelberg has Larry Walker and Bernie Williams, but no other distinctive hitters. Their pitching falls off greatly after Woody Williams' half-season and Wade Miller. Mike Remlinger is a solid closing option, but the set up position is a little weak. Prediction - 4th place, but contending for the first half of the season.

Central Division

A two team battle of similar proportions as the 2002 race.

Susquehanna made their move by acquiring Kirk Reuter. I'm not the worlds biggest Kirk Reuter fan, but he gives the Peanuts enough pitching to be a slight favorite over Strongsville. Reuter joins Jamie Moyer, Steve Trachsel, and Mike Mussina to cover most of the starts with decent grades and more importantly, good control. The pen features the double-barrelled action of twin 19s Eric Gagne and Jorge Julio, so having a closer available should not be a problem. On offense, Jim Thome stands tall. Assuming that Manny Ramirez hits in front of Thome, the question will be, "does Jose Hernandez provide enough of a threat to prevent people from walking Thome?" One other thing to like about the Peanut squad is their versatility that DeRosa and Lorreta provide. Prediction - 1st place, averaging close to 100 wins.

Strongsville has much better pitching than Susquehanna (Barry Zito, Tom Glavine, A.J. Burnett, Russ Ortiz), but the questions at the plate leave them a few games behind. Derek Lee and Mark Kotsay are the big bats while Craig Biggio and Moises Alou have off seasons. One often overlooked asset of the Mustangs is their stellar infield defense...4-8-9-5 around the infield. Prediction - 2nd place, racing against Irishtown for the wildcard.

Elyria suffered a complete outage from their starting pitchers. Any playoff hopes begin with Freddy Garcia, and his down season will leave the Pioneers in the 2nd division. Things are looking a little better on offense. Jeff Kent will slide over to 1st base to make room for Junior Spivey. Joe Crede and Jeff Conine share 3rd, with Ray Sanchez at short. Ron Gant, Jeff Hollandsworth, and perhaps Brian Daubach partol the outfield. Lampkin and Hundley split the catching duty. That gives Elyria four guys playing at secondary positions, a tribute to the value of having a flexible roster. Prediction - 3rd place, trying to avoid 100 losses.

Lincoln gets Nomar back for an entire seaon, and Jeff Bagwell is still a force at the cleanup spot. The Rail Splitters have double depth at 3rd with rookie Eric Hinske and Robin Ventura. Don't be surprised to see a mid-season trade of Ventura. The outfield is hurting, thanks in part to another off-season by Carl Everett. Rick Reed could be the difference between 3rd and 4th place, but Eddie thinks he'll be gone by midseason as well. Prediction - 4th place, in the same boat as Elyria.

Western Division

Can a team with Pokey Reese at 2nd win a title?

Falling Rock in first? I'm not stupid (really, I'm not), but when you look at their hitters, you may be inclined to ask, "Where's the beef?" OK, maybe there isn't much beef, but there's some good, quality SPAM. The beef - Ryan Klesko and Pat Burrell. Together they could hit 70 HR and drive in 275 runs. The SPAM - Aaron Boone, with his 66 extra base hits and 162 game availability, and part-timer Quinten McCracken. Roy Halladay is the team's lone star starting pitcher, but the bullpen is deep and loaded. Dotel, Embree, and Worrell ensure that every game there should be a quality closer available. I'm not predicting league dominance, but I am saying they'll win the division. Prediction - 1st place, 92 wins max.

Blue Mountain elected this year to go with more pitching and defense. The pitching is fine - Pedro Martinez, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder. In the pen are J.C. Romero and Kazuhiro Sasaki. The defense comes from Pokey Reese and Jack Wilson. But these guys hit worse than SPAM...more like liverwurst. Now Lance Berkman, Bobby Abreu, and Tim Salmon - they provide big time bats. Troy Glaus and Frank Thomas add some power, but will they be able to hold their own in the field? OK, confession time. If predictions were made by looking at the rosters on paper, I'd pick Blue Mountain by 10 games. But the test results show about a 45-55 split of the division in favor of Falling Rock. One thing's for sure...it will be a good race. Prediction - 2nd place, 2 games behind Falling Rock.

Mohonasen took a youthful approach in the draft, but still boasts perhaps the EMBA's best outfield of Ichiro Suzuki, Vladimir Guerrero, and Magglio Ordonez. A fading Edgar Martinez will still be productive while he can play, and there are several part-timers who will contribute. On the mound, Mark Burhle and Elmer Dessens lead the starters, but they'll often be betrayed by a shallow bullpen, with Trevor Hoffman as the lone standout. Prediction - 3rd place, a few wins shy of .500.

Penticton made a big deal to bring in Sosa and Maddux before last season. This year they made big deals to send them away. Along with the departure of Alfonso Soriano, the Predators look more like the prey as they will fall to the West cellar. Kenny Rogers is the only double-digit starter, and while Joey Eischen's grade 23 is impressive in the pen, his chances at saves might not be so plentiful. Rafael Palmeiro is the lone star on offense, so the team will need a Grade A performance from Jay Payton, Johnny Damon, etc. to make some noise. Prediction - 4th place, low 70s in wins.

American League

Eastern Division

Could this be the year that someone dethrones the Generals?

Virginia answers...uh, no. Despite the incredible moves made by Newark, this is Todd Helton territory, and he leads a monster offense to the division title. Helton is no one man gang, as Mike Piazza, Jose Vidro, Kevin Millar, and Mike Lowell contribute to the machine. Pitching is not as deep as some contenders, and if the Generals fall, this will be why. Orlando Hernandez is the team's only double-digit starter, and he's good for only 1/2 a season. Rob Nen, Mark Guthrie, and Grant Roberts man the pen, but behind them is little help. Prediction - 1st place by just a game or two over Newark.

Newark should help us answer the age old question...pitching or hitting. The Bears have the pitching, led by Bartolo Colon, Matt Morris, and Jason Schmidt. Their pen is deep, with Jay Witasick and Mike Crudale as the co-closers. They have a consistent offense, but there are no MVP candidates. Paul Konerko is the big power bat, and the Bears hope for 30 HR and 100+ RBI from him. Around Konerko will be Randy Winn, Derek Jeter, Edgardo Alfonzo, and Torii Hunter. How these five shuffle out will dictate the fate of the AL East. This will be one of the league's top races. Prediction - 2nd place, just a few games behind Virginia...even odds for the wildcard.

Cooperstown made a draft day move to pick up Al Leiter, but after the off-season smoke cleared, it probably isn't enough. Kirk Reuter was dealt away, and with him may have gone any longshot hopes of a wildcard. The biggest bat belongs to Garrett Anderson, and he'll team with Jaque Jones to give the Doubledays a fine 1-2 power punch. Todd Walker and Mark Bellhorn will contribute, but compared to Virginia and Newark, it won't be enough. Prediction - 3rd place, win totals in the low 70s.

Indiana made their intentions clear when they dealt away Gary Sheffield before the draft. The youth movement is on, and so enter Rodrigo Lopez, Jason Lane, Mark Ellis, and Mike Barrett. The season won't be a total wash for fans, as Lopez, David Wells, and Kevin Appier form a reasonable starting trio. Billy Wagner is a fine closer, but there is nothing behind him...so starters will carry a large burden. Ellis Burks and Raul Ibanez provide some pop, but the rest of the batters are still kids and not ready for the big time just yet. Prediction - 4th place, about 70 wins.

Central Division

It's Round Rock's title to grab, but if they slip, it could be a wild one.

Round Rock made the deal of the year when they picked up Greg Maddux after the draft. The Renegades's offense is promising, with solid young players all over the field. Cliff Floyd is the leader, and he should be a force in this year's AL season. Eric Chavez, Richie Sexson, and Vernon Wells offer power support, making spots 3-6 a nightmare for pitchers. Adam Kennedy and Kenny Lofton set the tables, which means there could multiple 100 RBI seasons to be had. On the mound, joining Maddux are Hideo Nomo and Joel Pineiro. Francisco Cordova is their to close the door, and the rest of the pen is deep. But I'll add this footnote - there is potential for disappointment, so I wouldn't bet the farm. Prediction - 1st place, with the first of many titles coming to Texas.

Dallas won the division last year, but things are a little different in 2003. Curt Schilling is still the star, and should again be a 20-game winner. But their is little to be excited about after big Curt. Paul Byrd and Chris Reitsma are adequate starters, but the pen is just two quality pitchers deep, and that won't be enough. John Olerud and Carlos Beltran will give the fans something to cheer about, but the rest of the squad is either still developing, or hampered with injuries (Nevin). No matter, may manager Berry have a great first EMBA season! Prediction - 2nd place, a few games on either side of .500.

Alabama looked to have so much promise, but somehow it didn't come together. Damian Moss (the Eddie Milner facial hair of the year winner), Matt Clement, and 2002 Cy Young winner Andy Pettite form a solid rotation. But the bullpen is shallow, and lacks a big time closer to seal those 1-run leads. Bret Boone and Brian Jordan are the hitting stars, and really they didn't have all star type seasons. If the Pacs' had one monster hitter and a closer, they might compete. Prediction - 3rd place, a few games under .500.

Bridgewater has made several deals which offers fans a completely different style club. They traded away Pedro Martinez in exchange for Ivan Rodriguez and some young pitching prospects. Makes sense, and over a whole season I-Rod can be an MVP candidate. Al Leiter was dealt for Joe Randa and Paul Shuey, which filled a hole at 3rd. Then the club picked up Alfonso Soriano to add another solid bat to the lineup. So with no starting pitching, the Mechanics are likely to suffer through a long season...but they'll score some runs. One has to ask, "Steve Finley, are your bags packed? First round pick Chris Hammond, how about you?" Let's hope that Denny Stark has solid self-esteem. Prediction - 4th place, a few wins over 70.

Western Division

Fred and Larry...again.

Durham still has the great offense. Alex Rodriguez will dominate most offensive categories and could be in for a record-breaking season. His supporting cast includes Carlos Delgado (on most teams he would be the main man), Ray Durham, and Jorge Posada. The outfield is the weakest part of the offense, unusual for most teams. Randy Johnson dominates the pitching scene, but unlike past years, he'll have to go it alone in 2003. The Dobies have a decent bullpen, and several control artists to fill out the rotation. Like Virginia in the East, the Dobies win with hitting, and that monster who pitches every 5th day. Prediction - 1st place, top seed in the AL.

Nuevo has a pair of solid starters in Jared Washburn and Vicente Padilla. Troy Percival is the closer, but he may be unavailable for part of the season. Behind him is a parade of grade 12-14 relievers who should be able to fill the void. Off-season acquisition Jim Edmonds, and right fielder Shawn Green lead the offense, which will see most of the starters suffer a drop in production from last year. These two teams are tight, so a fast start or a mid-season slump could greatly impact the season. Prediction - 2nd place, contending with Newark for the wildcard.

Anza has one of Eddie's favorite players, Chipper Jones. Chipper would sure look a lot better in National League threads. Kevin Millwood will allow Anza to be respectable this year, and Scott Sauerbeck should earn a few saves before his usage runs out. Along with Chipper is some guy named Jason Giambi, and they provide the offensive punch. But after the big two, David Bell is probably the team's 3rd best hitter. Ouch. Missing from much of this year's Alleycat parade will be Ken Griffey. Prediction - 3rd place, hoping to avoid 100 losses.

St. Louis traded away Matt Morris and Jim Edmonds, so maybe we should change their team name to the Expos. Austin Kearns, Scott Rolen, Edgar Renteria...and no pitching. How far they have fallen from the World Series team of two years ago. Prediction - 4th place, 100 losses.

The Playoffs - Round 1

The edge in the NL Wildcard goes to Irishtown and their slightly stronger offensive depth. In the AL, we're going with the newcomer Newark, mostly due to their starting pitching.

Irishtown vs Harrisburg - The regular season shows who has the better team, and in a short series, Harrisburg is a powerhouse. Heroes in 5 games.

Falling Rock vs Susquehanna - Jim Thome will shine, while the Peanut pitchers will avoid troubles by pitching around Klesko and Burrell. Susquehanna in 6 games.

Newark vs Durahm - With Randy Johnson pitching in games 1 and 4, the Dobies should win in 6. A-Rod or Delgado, both will be awesome with 3 HR each.

Round Rock vs Virginia - The Renegades' pitching plays even against Virigina's offense, but Round Rock hitters have a field day as the Renegades win 4 games to 2.

The Playoffs - Round 2

Susquehanna vs Harrisburg - Heroes again are heavily favored, and this time don't disappoint as Eddie rides his money on Harrisburg again. Six games, lots of action, but Heroes prevail. Adam Dunn and Barry Bonds combine for 16 walks in the 6 games.

Round Rock vs Durham - Again Round Rock faces a team short on starting pitching, and again they take advantage winning the series in 7 games. Randy Johnson wins games 1 and 4, but leaves with the score tied in game 7. In the 10th inning, Richie Sexson's single to center sends Kenny Lofton screaming around 3rd base to score the go ahead run. Brandon Villafuerte pitches a 1-2-3 10th to send the Renegades to the World Series.

The EMBA World Series

Harrisburg vs Round Rock - David vs. Goliath, if you will, but unlike the historical account, Goliath wins this one, 4 games to 1. Round Rock pitchers decide to pitch to Bonds during the series and he fails to hit a single HR. However Miguel Tejada goes nuts with 3 HR and 9 RBI in the series.

Eddie's Pick - Harrisburg Heroes