Posted: Friday March 30, 2007 11:12AM; Updated: Friday March 30, 2007 11:12AM
With the baseball season starting on Sunday, it's time to look at some of the key storylines. We'll let other baseball previews tell you who's going to win which division. Here are the things you should really be looking out for:
1. What race, ethnicity or sexual orientation will Ozzie Guillen insult next? The White Sox manager is more a walking electrical storm than a live wire. Just in case those MLB-mandated diversity courses that Guillen mocked last season didn't take, be sure to stand back when Mount Ozzie starts to blow. There's a fine line between "breath of fresh air" and "out-of-control nut," and that demarcation is likely whether or not Chicago is over .500.
2. Who will feed Roger Clemens' ego and bank account enough to land his temporary services? Is there anybody but a Yankees, Red Sox or Astros fan (the three teams alive in the annual Clemens Sweepstakes) who doesn't wish the Rocket would just blast off into the sunset once and for all. Yes, he's a sure-fire Hall of Famer and a physical marvel, but the endless will-he-or-won't-he saga makes Brett Favre look decisive. It would be easier to believe that Clemens didn't love milking the spotlight if he wasn't constantly showing up in various big-league camps to throw BP to his son or watch his "good buddy" Andy Pettitte pitch. Of course, it could be that I'm just jealous that my talent isn't so overwhelming that I can demand to work just four months a year at $4 million a month -- and have suitors line up for my services.
3. Who will lose more games, the Nationals or the Royals? Kansas City is usually the team to "beat" here after losing 100, 106 and 104 games the last three years. Yet the Nationals are making a strong push by shedding salaries; hey, it's a good thing they saved this franchise from Montreal, huh? Washington's "ace" is John Patterson and its No. 2 pitcher is To Be Determined, while cast-offs Cristian Guzman and Dmitri Young will be Opening Day regulars. Still, let's not overlook the Royals, who finally opened the bank only to blow the loot ($55 million over five years) on Gil Meche, who is 55-44 with a 4.65 ERA for his career. Even so, we're going with the Nats.
4. Will baseball's supposedly stronger drug policy actually catch a star player? One reason the NFL has more credibility on the steroids issue is, somewhat paradoxically, that more and better players (i.e. Shawne Merriman) are busted each season. MLB has finally entered the anti-steroids game after years of no testing followed by initially laughable penalties, but those caught and punished have been less a Who's Who than a Who's That? The biggest scalp has been an over-the-hill Rafael Palmeiro, and even then some speculated that MLB waited to lower the boom until after Raffy reached his 3,000th hit. (Awfully cordial of them.) There will be doubts in some corners about how much MLB really wants to find drug cheats until it takes down somebody who matters.
5. How many wins will Mark Prior and Kerry Wood combine for? Ah, it seems like just yesterday that the young pitchers graced the cover of SI's 2003 midseason baseball issue, holding a flaming baseball over the cover line "Chicago Heat." Now the Cubs just hope they can reach the mound without a limb falling off. Remarkably, as of press time neither was officially on the disabled list, but keep checking the transactions wire. The forever-rehabbing Prior will start the season in the minors while Wood looks DL-ready with a sore shoulder after already dealing with a triceps injury and sore ribs (from falling in a hot tub) this spring. We'll set the 2007 over-under on combined big-league victories at eight, and take the under.
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