2004 EMBA Predictions

- Eddie Milner

Not too many people take Eddie seriously anymore. Like they ever did. He hasn't called one right in four years, and it might even be longer than that (but I was too lazy to look). So if you read something you don't like, just remember this paraphrase from an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus: "Shut up you silly one, it's all in fun!"

Before hitting the division races, here's Eddie's picks for some individual awards:

National League Leaders

Batting - Barry Bonds, Harrisburg
HR - Barry Bonds, Harrisburg
RBI - Jim Thome, Susquehanna
SB - Dave Roberts, Lincoln
Wins - Tim Hudson, Blue Mountain
ERA - Mike Mussina, Susquehanna
Saves - Eric Gagne, Susquehanna
MVP - Barry Bonds, Harrisburg
Cy Young - Mike Mussina, Susquehanna

American League Leaders

Batting - Todd Helton, Virginia
HR - Alex Rodriguez, Durham
RBI - Alfonso Soriano, Bridgewater
SB - Alex Sanchez, Indiana
Wins - Kevin Brown, Durham
ERA - Kevin Brown, Durham
Saves - Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Durham
MVP - Alex Rodriguez, Durham
Cy Young - Kevin Brown, Durham

2004 looks like mostly the same old teams, with one exception.

National League

Eastern Division

Has Eddie been playing with the powder again? Nah, he cleaned up his act in the late 90s. (It's true).

New Oxford has finally reached playoff calibur status, thanks mostly to some draft choices paying off and several trades. Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and now Esteban Loaiza lead a solid pitching rotation, with help from Johan Santana and the two-headed relief monster Brenden Donnally and LaTroy Hawkins. On offense, their is power galore in the lineup with Albert Pujols, Reggie Sanders, Sammy "Cork 'n Juice" Sosa, and Rondell White. A trade the brought in Orlando Cabrera teams him with Mike Young to form a solid DP combo, a rarety in Lions' history. Weak spots are at 3rd (Jimenez or Beltre) and catcher (Johnson). But the Lions have the pitching to play with the big boys this year, will make the playoffs, and Eddie thinks, win the division by a few games. Prediction - 1st place, 102 wins, and #1 seed in the NL.

Harrisburg has been the EMBA's best team over the past 3 years, and this year they will again be a force. Power, power, and more power, starting of course with Barry Bonds. Barry's outfield mates of Andruw Jones and Trot Nixon make the best roving trio in the EMBA, and with Corey Patterson is reserve to spell Bonds from time to time, there's no shortage of juice (sorry, Hal). Kendall, Tejada and Castillo up the middle, and Sweeney at first - that's 7 offensive spots filled with a legitimate all star. Aramis Ramirez at 3rd is no slouch, so opposing pitchers beware. But...and it's a big but...the Heroes have an achilles heel. It's their pitching. Oswalt and Pettite give them around 50 starts in double digit grade points, and the rest is up the the pen, or to the offense to outslug the other team (which is what will happen quite frequently). The bullpen is solid but not deep, with Isringhausen and Riske sharing the closer duties. Certainly a playoff team, possibly the NL East champ, and possibly the 1st or 2nd best record in the EMBA. Prediction - 2nd place, 98 wins, NL Wild Card.

Irishtown - Age has found the Legends, and thus it's time to gently step back for a year. Kerry Wood and Kip Wells will keep the club near the .500 mark, but a lack of bullpen and weak-hitting infielders will hold the Legends a few games under par. Gary Sheffield gives the NL East a hat trick in the "gee, won't you pee?" club, and along with Dmitri Young they will give opposing pitchers something to think about. That is, unless Young finds himself on another club. A hard team for Eddie to predict, becuase so many guys will platoon or play multiple positions. Prediction - 3rd place, 74 wins.

Heidelberg is clean...as far as we know. Of course that also means no 50 HR potential hitters either. Former superstars Bernie Williams and Larry Walker are on the way down, and have been seen talking with Cal Ripken about how to handle the declining years. Jason Varitek is probalby the most feared hitter on the club. There are several young players on the roster who could turn into special players. Eddie likes Jason Bay, Wade Miller, and the control artist Zach Day. But for now, it's another year of waiting in Heidelberg - Prediction, 4th place, 69 wins, lottery team.

Central Division

Tight, tight, tight...could be a three team race.

Susquehanna - It's a good year to be named Mark...Mark Loretta and Mark Grudzielanek each hit .314 this past season, and they will handle most of the double play duty. That's a nice feature to have batting in front of sluggers Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez...yes it is. The offense falls off a bit after that, but there is enough pitching to make up for the weaker 2nd half of the order. Mussina, Moyer, Trachsel, and Contreras offer around 100 double-digit starts, and with the big gun Eric Gagne in the pen, each game is really an 8 inning affair. The middle relief may disappoint at times, but there should be enough to handle the season. Eddie's biggest thrill this spring was seeing Ken Harvey at the breakfast table. Now there's a butt to rival Kent Hrbek! - Prediction - repeat as the NL Central Champions, 88 wins, #3 seed in the NL.

Strongsville - The Mustangs are dancing around that age thing, and this year it may have caught them. Derek Lee is the only real full time scare in the lineup, with Greg Myers (where did that season come from?) a part time power source behind the plate. Alou, Matsui, and Biggio are OK, but there's no Manny to compete with Susquehanna. The starting pitching has weakened, with only Ortiz and Zito providing a quality grade. The pen is great, with Smoltz and Quantrill holding anything after 6. But weak bats around the infield spell their doom, as Strongsville will have to battle to stay above .500. - Prediction - 2nd place, 82 wins.

Lincoln - Eddie's not sure about this one. Garciaparra, Edmonds, Bagwell, Everett...that sounds like some runs. But the pitching is not deep enough. Only Vicente Padilla has a double-digit grade (11), and the bullpen is as wild as one of my in-laws at the dessert table. Eddie sees a lot of leads coming and a lot of leads going...and a disappointing season in Lincoln. Prediction - 3rd place, 78 wins.

Elyria will be a pesky spoiler this year. Conine and Kent are the lone standouts at the plate, but some of those kids (Hammock, Reyes) are going to give some heartburn to someone. Josh Beckett needs to be cloned 4 times and given a full year of health, but that won't happen this year. But...if you're a Pioneer follower, there's always tomorrow. And next year they might be playing Johnny Mathis all over town. - Prediction - 4th place, 62 wins, lottery team.

Western Division

Eddie learns his lesson.

Blue Mountain - Last year Eddie picked the other team, Falling Rock. Not this year. The trade for Chipper Jones and the drafting of Wilson Alvarez sealed the deal, and the Rolling Thunder will roll to a division crown. Pedro, Hudson, Mulder...that should be illegal. Blue Mountain has .300 hitters at catcher, 2nd base, right field, left field, plus sluggers Berkman and Big Frank. This is as bad a facing Harrisburg, and probably worse because of the pitching. Playoff teams had better hope for some untimely injuries to Pedro and Alvarez, or it could be lights out for the competition. Prediciton - 1st place, 95 wins, #2 seed in the NL.

Falling Rock - While Eddie is picking Blue Mountain, he's not dismissing the Rock. Falling Rock is going to be in both the division race and the wildcard race for most if not all of the season. On the hill they have three big boys in Hernandez, Halladay, and Sabathia. The pen is deep, but if Mercker does the closing instead of Dotel, there could be problems. The offense lags behind a little, with Furcal, Jenkins, and B. Boone as the highlight names. Lower averages at catcher, first, and 2 of the outfield positions will hinder the Stunners, and Eddie thinks, cost them a playoff berth. Prediction - 2nd place, 91 wins.

Penticton - The Predators have the hitters, but not the pitching needed to make the playoffs. The trade that brought in Melvin Mora and Preston Wilson should energize an already powerful lineup featuring Hank Blalock, Rafael Palmeiro, and Jay Payton. But the rotation is lacking a stopper, with Brian Anderson the best the club can offer as a grade 9. The bullpen is 4 deep, but does not have a power closer like Smoltz, so things may be a little shaky in the late innings. In the Central they might be contenders, but in the West they'll fall short. Prediction - 3rd place, 88 wins.

Mohonasen - It's rebuilding time for the Warriors, and the draft brought the future left side of the infield in Miguel Cabrera and Kahlil Greene, as well as starter Horacio Ramirez. More trades have stocked the team with three #1 picks next year, but this will be a year of waiting. Here's to hoping that Vladimir likes Anaheim and is healthy, and that the six #1 picks in two years builds a rock-solid team in 2006. Prediction - 4th place, 59 wins, lottery team.

American League

Eastern Division

Looks like a repeat of 2003.

Newark follows their trip to the World Series with another solid club. The Bears have an excellent rotation with the trio of Schmidt, Vazquez, and Ponson leading the way. The lack of bullpen depth is an area of concern, but not enough to keep the Bears out of the playoffs. The big star this year might be catcher Javy Lopez, who along with Milton Bradley, have awesome stats for this season. Randy Winn and Derek Jeter set the table nicely, but the latter half of the lineup is less than stellar. The Bears could use a better 2nd baseman, and a replacement for either Konerko or Hunter. But I wouldn't count on that. Still, there's enough top talent to take the AL East. Prediction - 90 wins, 1st place AL East.

Virginia - The song is starting to get old. Great hitting, weak pitching. Virginia has the bullpen that Newark craves, but their #1 starter, Ryan Franklin, would the #4 man in Newark. On offense, there's Todd Helton, Jose Vidro, Mike Lowell, Richard Hidalgo, Marlon Byrd, and Kevin Millar. Plus about 1/3 of a season from Mike Piazza. This race will come down to a battle of which is more important - a slugging lineup, top to bottom, or a solid starting rotation. Eddie's going with the pitchers. Prediction - 2nd place, and a tight wild card win over Bridgewater, 88 wins.

Cooperstown - Young Brandon Webb brings the DoubleDays something they truly needed - a stopper in the rotation. But the other 4 starters have single-digit grades, and the bullpen is a trio of 21, 19, and 10. Any lead after 7 should be safe, but it's innings 4-6 that will be of concern. Cooperstown has one big slugger, Garrett Anderson, then five other guys who hit .280 with less than 20 HR. Consistent, but not scary. It should be an enjoyable year of baseball, but the DoubleDays don't have enough horses to compete with Newark and Virginia. Prediction - 3rd place, 77 wins.

Indiana - One of the problems with young players is that often they don't develop when you need them. Many of last year's picks had down years, sealing a last place finish for the Invaders. But there are some pleasant surprises in store. Bill Mueller should have a great year, and patience paid off with Morgan Ensberg, who should have a powerful, yet limited performance this season. But the pitching really tells the story. Relievers Billy Wagner and Al Levine are the sole double-digit graded pitchers, which is doom for the outlook of the club. Prediction - 4th place, 70 wins.

Central Division

Welcome Chucky, you've made the playoffs!

Appleton - Chuck Bennett takes over the former Round Rock team, and boy is he happy. Great defense up the middle; hitters like Eric Chavez, Vernon Wells, Richie Sexson; Nomo, Piniero, and Clemens heading the rotation with twins Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano leading a six-man bullpen. The Aces are the class of the AL. Prediction - 1st place, #1 seed, 100 wins.

Bridgewater has a pretty good club this year. Pudge Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, and Steve Finley lead a solid lineup, with Joe Randa and Doug Mientkewicz underrated but quite effective. The starting pitching is thin, with Miguel Batista as the lone double-digit grade, but the pen is five deep, although two have limited innings. The battle that Bridgewater will find itself in is for the wild card, a contest between the Mechanics and Virginia. Prediction - 2nd place, missing the wild card by a few games, 87 wins.

Dallas - The Drovers continue their rebuilding, and have a pair of gems in Carlos Beltran and Aubrey Huff. Curt Schilling and Darrel May lead the pitchers, and Damaso Marte and Keith Foulke make a stellar 1-2 duo out of the pen. The defense boasts some good gloves, and Dallas has the unique situation of having two 9 shortstops. The one (Izturis) hits like Rafael Belliard, but if this were 1972, that wouldn't matter. I guess since the other one (Gonzalez) is going to play every day, it won't matter what Izturis hits anyway...so forget it. Dallas needs a little more offense to entertain big thoughts about the playoffs. Prediction - 3rd place, 77 wins.

Knoxville figures to battle Mohonassen for the league's worst record. The guys with talent had bad years (Burrell, Dunn, Graves), and only Dontrelle Willis and Dannys Baez can be counted upon on the hill. But the Smokies do have two entertaining players - OF/PH/P Brooks Kieschnick, who could be a spoiler off the bench (for which team depends upon how he's used), and 57-year old Benito Santiago, who by July may not even be able to walk without his meds. Prediciton - 4th place, 51 wins, lottery team.

Western Division

Fred stands alone.

Durham follows a disappointing year with a shot at the title as they could be the only team in the AL West to finish with a .500 record. Even though he broke Mrs.Elicker's heart, A-Rod is still the king of baseball. He has Carlos Delgado and Jorge Posada to protect him in the lineup, and Shannon Stewart and Ray Durham to set the table. Durham has two solid starters in Kevin Brown and Mark Redmond, with Shigetoshi Hasegawa as the closer. The pen is five deep, and that should be enough to compensate for the weaker 3-4-5 starters. Two deals that Durham made in the off-season which Eddie thinks will be huge next year - picking up Ken Griffey for a bag of magic beans, and getting Carl Pavano, always an Eddie favorite. Prediction - 1st place, battling Appleton for the #1 seed, 100 wins.

St. Louis went from the penthouse to the outhouse and now are back to respectability. Look at that lineup - Ortiz, Renteria, Rolen, Ordonez, Kearns, Drew. 2005 is looking real good. The pitching for this year is thin, with no big time starters but a 4-deep pen. There are a lot of young men who are highly thought of, and sooner or later the Bandits are going to be a force. Prediction - 2nd place, 80 wins.

Nuevo traded a ton away to get first baseman Mark Tiexeria, so he had better make nice with the fans. Tex is surrounded by an aging team, with almost no pitching and thus almost no chance of a winning season. These boys dominated two years ago, and now...Prediction - 3rd place, battling with Anza to stay out of the basement, 70 wins.

Anza is officially on Eddie's poop list. They traded Ken Griffey and then traded Chipper Jones. They should have traded Slim Fast Giambi instead. At least there will be lots of 15 year old girls at all of the games - they love Laynce Nix. Prediction - The kitties will suffer, 4th place, 69 wins.

The Playoffs - Round 1

Harrisburg vs New Oxford - Despite Barry Bonds' 3 HR, the Lions hit 11 as a team to advance 4 games to 1. Harrisburg pitchers leave with an ERA over 6.00.

Susquehanna vs Blue Mountain - This one goes down to the wire and Blue Mountain wins it on Jack Wilson's 10th inning double in game 7. Both teams combine to hit under .200 for the series.

Virginia vs Appleton - Appleton bats go silent, as they manage just 2 HR in 5 games, and Virginia advances 4 games to 1. Mike Lowell hits 3 HR and drives in 7.

Newark vs Durham - A-Rod vs. Jeter, who could ask for more? Brown and Redman combine for 3 wins, Delgado hits 4 HR and drives home 9 as Durham wins 4 games to 2. A-Rod held to .118, Jeter .120.

The Playoffs - Round 2

Blue Mountain vs New Oxford - The Lions are hot and hit over .300 for the series as they advance to the World Series, 4 games to 1. Sanders and Pujols each hit 3 HR; Sanders drives in 10.

Virginia vs Durham - A-Rod makes amends with 4 HR and 9 RBI, Posada adds 3 more HR, and Kevin Brown wins twice to give Durham a trip the World Series with a 4-1 series win.

The EMBA World Series

Durham vs New Oxford - Eddie's dream comes true as the Lions return to the winner's circle 17 years after Eddie last appeared in the show, and New Oxford wears the crown with a 4 games to 1 win. No one player stars, but Reggie Sanders does hit .500 and Rondell White hits 3 HR. A-Rod and Posada have good series, but neither homers. Lions pay tribute to Fred McGriff after the series. He joined the team the year following their last title.

Eddie's Pick - New Oxford Lions