HGH or ERA? PEDs or RBIs? Unfortunately, the Mitchell Report on the use of drugs in baseball didn’t put an end to the issue of performance enhancers on the diamond. C’mon, can we just play ball? Fox Sports baseball insider Ken Rosenthal lets MF know what will happen on the field.
THREE TEAMS TO WATCH
1. New York Yankees: A new manager (Joe Girardi), a new Boss (George Steinbrenner’s son, Hank), and a renewed (and richer) Alex Rodriguez. “They’re the team you can’t take your eyes off,” Rosenthal says.
2. Chicago Cubs: The Sox have long since shaken the Curse; the Cubbies are next in line—99 years and counting since they won a World Series. Why could this be the one? They’ve got manager Lou Piniella and play in the woeful National League. “I’ve just got a feeling about them.”
3. Tampa Bay Rays: Typically the dregs of the A.L. East, this is pitch-black dark horse territory. Evan Longoria? Jake McGee? You might not know these guys now, but pay attention. “The Rays have been stockpiling young talent and have got guys who are real close to making it.”
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox: Beckett’s teammate made his big-league debut last June and has already been labeled the team’s center fielder of the future. Locals call him wicked aah-some. “This guy’s for real,” Rosenthal says.
2. Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers: Don’t be fooled by the so-so stats from ’07, Weeks is a stud. “He’s a good on-base guy, he’s got good speed and here’s the key: He’s healthy now and should be ready to perform.”
3. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies: Want to feel old? The shortstop’s favorite players growing up were Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra. “He’s a great hitter, but people don’t realize what a tremendous fielder he is, too,” Rosenthal says.
THREE HEADLINES TO WATCH
1. Trouble in Queens: The New York Mets suffered a historic collapse down the stretch last year, so any early woes could mean a hot-seat for GM Omar Minaya or manager Willie Randolph. “That’s a team that needs a quick start.”
2. Homer Happy: Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield take aim at their 500th HRs, while Ken Griffey Jr. starts the year only seven shy of 600. It’s hard not to wonder if Junior would be in Barry Bonds territory now if he could’ve stayed healthy.
3. Boss Rips Star Bomber: Hank Steinbrenner and A-Rod say there are no problems between them, but an outspoken owner and a thin-skinned superstar don’t figure to make for a trouble-free season.