Let's play musical chairs. I give you nine teams capable of winning 90 games in the American League this year: the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, White Sox, Indians, Twins, Athletics, Angels and Rangers. Now I give you six chairs for those nine teams.
Why six? In AL history no more than six teams have ever won 90 games in the same season, and that kind of planetary alignment happened only twice: 1977 and 2002. The average number of 90-win teams per year in the 10 full seasons with the wild-card format is four.
Ask any of those aforementioned nine teams if winning fewer than 90 games this season would be a disappointment, and the answer you should get is yes.
OK, now back to our game. Give me three of those nine teams who won't get one of the 90-win chairs. And remember, it's more likely that four or five of them will be disappointed this year, not just three. Difficult, isn't it?
The pennant race in the brutally competitive AL should be one of the best dramas this season before the music finally stops. To help you anticipate what else is coming your way, here are my 2006 predictions, complete with a look back at how my 2005 selections played out. Music not included.
AL MVP 2005: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels. A solid third-place finisher. 2006: Paul Konerko, White Sox. A power hitter in a power-hitter's park can put up even bigger numbers if Jim Thome stays healthy.
NL MVP 2005: Albert Pujols, Cardinals. Got this one right. 2006: Pujols, Cardinals. He's that good folks -- an all-time great.
AL Cy Young Award 2005: Randy Johnson, Yankees. Won 17 games and finished second in strikeouts but was shut out in the Cy voting. 2006: Rich Harden, Athletics. It may seem unusual to pick a guy who has never thrown 200 innings, but the same could have been said about Johan Santana in 2004.
NL Cy Young Award 2005: John Smoltz, Braves. Solid season (14-7, 3.06 ERA) but finished off the Cy charts. 2006: Jake Peavy, Padres. Still only 24 (born the same year as Harden), Peavy already has an ERA title, a strikeout title, a .597 winning percentage and, according to baseball-reference.com, a Pedro Martinez-like career profile.
AL Rookie of the Year 2005: Huston Street, Athletics. Made me look good with a Rivera-style season. 2006: Delmon Young, Devil Rays. Tampa Bay won't be able to hold him back. I like Francisco Liriano of Minnesota and Justin Verlander of Detroit, but no starting pitcher has won this award since Dave Righetti in 1981.