Yankees and Mets should highlight World Subway Series

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Spring has sprung (or at least it feels like it), the gloves and cleats have been taken out and the noise from the crack of the bat is beginning to fill the air.

Yes, baseball season has arrived.

Just like any year, there were many moves made this off-season, giving many teams a brand new look.

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The defending champion St. Louis Cardinals are back in full force this season, led by the best player in baseball, Albert Pujols.

Last year's Cinderella story Detroit Tigers, led by manager Jim Leyland, also remained intact, although the Tigers will need a stronger bullpen to get over the World Series hump.

And of course, the Yankees will be strong as long as manager Joe Torre can keep the billion-dollar lineup in check.

Here are my predictions for the 2007 Major League Baseball season:

AL East

New York Yankees- You can almost always count the winner of this division as either the Yankees or the Boston Red Sox, but the Toronto Blue Jays stepped back into early ‘90s form and took second place away from the Red Sox last season, even though the Yankees eventually pulled out a 10-game lead. The huge names like A-Rod and Jeter are back, but Gary Sheffield and the Big Unit Randy Johnson are gone. World Series winning pitcher Andy Pettitte is back from his stint in Houston, which could also set up the return of the Rocket Roger Clemons. The Yankees haven't been to the Series since the game 7 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, so the boys in pinstripes should hungrier than ever.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox- The Chi Sox are just one year removed from a World Series championship, but failed to even make the postseason last year. Minnesota has been a power in the Central Division for years and Detroit made its claim of dominance by advancing to the World Series as the Wild Card last season. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is a near-perfect 11-1 in the postseason, so if the Chi Sox can just make it to October, they should have a legitimate shot at the title. There is plenty of offensive power, but the bullpen leaves something to be desired.

AL West

Oakland A's- Oakland General Manager Billy Beane is one of the smartest office men in Major League Baseball and the former first-round draft choice has turned the A's into a perennial playoff contender. In a stark contrast to the way the New York Yankees operate, Beane goes after the guys who reach base most often instead of the guys demanding the most money. You won't be looking at an All-Star lineup when you first glance at the A's lineup this season, but you will see a group of guys who know how to win. The addition of Mike Piazza should give the A's some more fire power this season and there are several young guys who are up and coming and have yet had the opportunity to prove themselves. One of those guys, catcher Jeremy Brown, should play up this season after spending the last two years in the Oakland farm system. Brown won the Johnny Bench Award as the most outstanding catcher during his senior year at the University of Alabama and was also the subject of a chapter in Michael Lewis' best-selling book about Beane's baseball philosophy entitled &#8220Moneyball.” Brown may not look like the prototypical athlete, but the boy can play ball and he is a winner.

AL Wild Card

Boston Red Sox- Although &#8220The Curse of the Bambino” is over, the curse of the Yankees is not. The Red Sox still play in the AL East with the Yankees, which spells bad news for Boston fans. However, after not making the playoffs last season, Boston fans are rabid in anticipation for this year to start and will not settle for anything less than the playoffs. The Red Sox were good enough to make the postseason last year, but the chips just did not fall into place. Boston returns a solid pitching staff and a great offensive lineup. If the Red Sox nation can stay patient through the summer, they should be rewarded with another Yankees-Red Sox playoff spectacular. Sorry Detroit and Minnesota; not this year.

NL East

New York Mets- Paging the Atlanta Braves. Anyone seen the Atlanta Braves? Guess not. After taking a backseat to the Braves for what seems like the last 20 years, the Mets returned to division dominance last year by running away with the lead by 12 games over the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies have also grown tired of being the Braves' whipping boys and should be a contender as well. Like the A's, the Mets do not have an All-Star studded lineup, but these boys can play and should be playing when October rolls around.

NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals- As easy as one might think this pick was to make, I am still not 100 percent positive the Cardinals will take the division. The Houston Astros have been great as of late, but some key departures will leave Houston fans wishing on a star. Cincinnati has also staged a comeback recently and should be poised to make a run at the Cardinals late in the season, but with Tony Larussa at the helm in St. Louis, the sky is the limit for these Cardinals. And with Albert Pujols in the lineup, you can never count the Cardinals out.

NL West

L.A. Dodgers- Last year's Wild Card winner, the Dodgers, should be ready to take the step up as division leader this season. Although the Dodgers tied with the San Diego Padres last season for the division lead, the Padres clinched the tiebreaker to take the title. The Dodgers ended last year's regular season with a seven-game win streak to advance to the playoffs and with, perhaps, the best infield defensive unit in all of baseball returning (Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, Rafael Furcal, Andy LaRoche), Los Angeles should be a solid contender this season.

NL Wild Card

Philadelphia Phillies- Sorry Braves fans. Atlanta will, once again, be left at home watching the playoffs on television. The Phillies, however, have been one of baseball's hottest teams lately, in terms of up and coming stars, and that should start to show this season. Ryan Howard, last season's NL MVP and Home Run Derby champion, made a huge impact last year and put baseball's best player, Albert Pujols, on the backburner for maybe the first time in his career. The Phillie bullpen leaves something to be desired with Brett Meyers' 12 wins finishing as tops on the team last year. If the Phillies don't let the Mets run away with it again this season, Philadelphia could even be in the hunt for the division crown.

2007 World Series

New York Yankees d. New York Mets- Seven years after the Subway Series sweep of the Mets by the Yankees, the two New York ball clubs will once again capture the attention of the world in the October classic. The real Team of the ‘90s, the New York Yankees, although close several times, have not been a legitimate threat to make it to the World Series since losing to Boston in game 7 of the ALCS in 2004. The loss to Arizona in game 7 of the 2001 World Series seems to have taken something out of the Yankee lore, but with Andy Pettitte back in the Big Apple, things should start clicking once again. Jeter and A-Rod will be able to put aside differences and Joe Torre will once again prove he can manage baseball's biggest egos. Although the 2000 Series was over in four, this one should be much closer. Look for the Yankees to pull it out in game 7 off of a Jorge Posada homerun.

Austin Phillips is The Greenville Advocate sports editor.

You can contact him by e-mailing austin.phillips@greenvilleadvocate.com or by calling 382-3111 ext. 122.