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American beauty (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday March 28, 2006 11:57AM; Updated: Thursday March 30, 2006 2:12AM
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NL Rookie of the Year
2005: Rickie Weeks, Brewers. The midseason call-up did land on the ballot, though he finished seventh.
2006: Prince Fielder, Brewers. Big-time power hitter should get plenty of at-bats, keeping a 30-home-run season in reach.

AL Manager of the Year
2005: Eric Wedge, Indians. Finished a close second to the deserving winner, Ozzie Guillen.
2006: Ken Macha, Athletics. Oakland has the best depth it's had in years, and Macha must keep everyone productive.

NL Manager of the Year
2005: Felipe Alou, Giants. Not so good without that left fielder in the lineup.
2006: Grady Little, Dodgers. He has the right touch to bring a team back from a 91-loss season.

AL Home Run Champion
2005: Mark Teixeira, Rangers. Fell five home runs short.
2006: Teixeira, Rangers. He's just getting better.

NL Home Run Champion
2005: Adam Dunn, Reds. Finished third, 11 homers behind Andruw Jones.
2006: Derrek Lee, Cubs. That 2005 season was no fluke.

AL Batting Champion
2005: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners. He hit .303 in a down year, finishing 11th.
2006: Derek Jeter, Yankees. Can it really be that he turns 32 in June? The career .314 hitter could get a boost with Johnny Damon in front of him.

NL Batting Champion
2005: Todd Helton, Rockies. The perennial contender finished fourth with a .320 average.
2006: Pujols, Cardinals. Here's the scary part: At 26, he's just now getting into his prime.

AL Most Pitching Wins
2005: Johnson, Yankees. Only three pitchers won more.
2006: Harden, Athletics. He takes his place as one of the five best aces in baseball.

NL Most Pitching Wins
2005: Smoltz, Braves. Seemed to wear down a bit after working in overdrive to recondition himself to start.
2006: Mark Mulder, Cardinals. There are plenty of wins to be had pitching for the NL's best team.

AL Comeback Player
2005 Richie Sexson, Mariners. Huge season (39 homers, 121 RBIs) after his '04 season ended with a shoulder injury after nine home runs.
2006: Jim Thome, White Sox. The lineup and the ballpark are too favorable for him not to have a big season.

NL Comeback Player
2005: Troy Glaus, Diamondbacks. Made good on the comeback prediction with 37 homers and 97 RBIs.
2006: Eric Gagne, Dodgers. His velocity isn't all the way back yet, but his off-speed stuff still is nasty.

AL Most Overrated
2005: Chan Ho Park, Rangers. Texas dumped him on San Diego for another overrated player, Phil Nevin.
2006: Jay Gibbons, Orioles. Not a bad player, but there was no reason for Baltimore to lock up a 29-year-old corner outfielder with a career .315 OBP and one 80-RBI season.

NL Most Overrated
2005: Raul Mondesi, Braves. And to think Atlanta began last season with this guy as an every-day outfielder.
2006: Jacque Jones, Cubs. An older Gibbons: a decent corner outfielder who doesn't get on base enough or produce enough runs.

AL Most Underrated
2005: Travis Hafner, Indians. No longer qualifies after fifth-place showing on MVP ballot.
2006: Jorge Cantu, Devil Rays. His defense is shaky at second base, but this guy can flat-out mash.

NL Most Underrated
2005: Brad Lidge, Astros. With 42 saves, established himself as one of the game's premier closers.
2006: Jason Bay, Pittsburgh. The attention will come if the Pirates finally manage a winning season.

AL Breakout Player
2005: Harden, Athletics. He was on his way to a big season before getting hurt.
2006: Felix Hernandez, Mariners. Easiest call. Baseball's Next Big Thing, a once-in-a-generation pitcher.

NL Breakout Player
2005: David Wright, Mets. He arrived right on time with an MVP-type of year: .306, 27, 102.
2006: Edwin Encarnacion, Reds. With Wright, Encarnacion, Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals, Chad Tracy of the Diamondbacks and Garrett Atkins of the Rockies, the hot corner in the NL is stocked with young stars on the rise.

AL Surprise Team
2005: Indians. The Indians definitely were the surprise team, even though they went home instead of to the playoffs with 93 wins.
2006: Devil Rays. You read it here first: a franchise-record 72 wins. And free parking!

NL Surprise Team
2005: Diamondbacks. You bet they were a surprise: They improved by 26 wins.
2006: Brewers. The Brewers can be on the cusp of a wild-card spot with upper-80s wins.

AL Disappointing Team
2005: Athletics. I thought they'd win in the mid-80s and miss the playoffs. They won 88 and missed the playoffs.
2006: Indians. Similarly, I think the Indians, who took a big leap forward last year, will take a smaller step backward with five to 10 fewer wins.

NL Disappointing Team
2005: Phillies. I was almost wrong. They didn't get eliminated from the wild-race until the final day.
2006: Nationals. A turbulent spring training and protracted ownership vacuum does not bode well.

AL Division Winners
2005: Yankees, Twins, Angels. I'll have the Meatloaf special: two out of three ain't bad.
2006: Yankees, White Sox, Athletics.

NL Division Winners
2005: Braves, Cardinals, Giants. More Meatloaf, please!
2006: Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers.

AL Wild Card
2005: Red Sox. Again.
2006: Red Sox. And again.

NL Wild Card
2005: Marlins. Collapsed down the stretch.
2006: Mets. As long as Martinez makes his 30 starts.

2005: Yankees over Red Sox. Both teams watched it on TV.
2006: White Sox over Athletics. While New York and Boston settle into their Barcaloungers again.

2005: Braves over Giants. Atlanta's record in playoff series since the 1999 World Series: 1-7 (.125). Its record in playoff games since then: 11-23 (.324).
2006: Cardinals over Braves. Nice way to break in a new ballpark.

World Series
2005: Yankees over Braves. First-round knockout victims.
2006: White Sox over Cardinals. More angst for Cubs fans.