We have entered the dead zone of the sports world.

March Madness is a week away, baseball doesn’t start for three more weeks, the NBA and NHL are in the boring stretch before the playoff races become intense and there is no major event coming up for golf or tennis. If UR weren’t in the NCAA Div. III Tournament, I wouldn’t have anything to root for.

Fortunately, if there isn’t anything to watch, there’s always something to predict. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to make five fearless predictions for the 2002 baseball season.

1. Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood will win the NL Cy Young award. The 25-year-old fireballer is two full years removed from Tommy John surgery and his 3.36 ERA last year was lower than his phenomenal rookie season.

Wood also threw the most innings of his career in 2001 with no ill effects. He looks like he’s ready to pitch the 200 innings that would allow him to top 250 strikeouts and make a run at 20 wins. It’s not unreasonable to predict 20 wins for Wood either, as an improved Chicago offense will give him good run support.

2. San Diego will win the NL West. I’m not joking. Of the five teams in the division, San Diego has the fewest potential problems.

Arizona is probably the favorite to win the division, but seems likely to be ravaged by injury and age-related declines. Unless Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling can top last season’s domination, I would not be surprised to see the Diamondbacks struggle to finish above .500.

San Francisco has the talent to win the division, but Jeff Kent is already hurt and Barry Bonds is injury prone. Even if Bonds and Kent can stay healthy, the Giants may have trouble getting offense from anybody else besides Rich Aurilia.

Los Angeles and Colorado both have too many problems to discuss. Let’s just say that the Dodgers will have problems scoring runs and the Rockies will have trouble preventing them. Los Angeles may also get decimated by injuries and Colorado’s players tend to wear down as the season moves along because of the altitude.

San Diego, on the other hand, has two of the most underrated players ? Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko ? in the NL, two of the most promising rookies ? Sean Burroughs and Ramon Vazquez ? in the NL and the best closer ? Trevor Hoffman ? in the NL. The Padres also have a solid, young rotation.

3. The New York Yankees will struggle with injuries and subpar seasons before making at least one major trade at the deadline. Rondell White, Roger Clemens, Sterling Hitchcock, David Wells, Robin Ventura and Steve Karsay will all make at least one trip to the disabled list.

Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams will both continue to decline slightly on offense and Nick Johnson won’t be as good as expected right away.

Of course, none of that will matter when the Yankees trade for Vladimir Guerrero.

4. Ichiro Suzuki will break George Sisler’s record for hits in a single season (257). Seattle’s electric right fielder cranked out 242 hits last year and should know the pitchers better this season. He doesn’t seem to have any flaws in his swing and he may take even fewer walks this year ? if that’s possible ? as he hated drawing walks in Japan.

Look for Ichiro to also have two separate hitting streaks of at least 30 games.

5. Pedro Martinez will win 25 games and the AL Cy Young award, Nomar Garciaparra will win the batting title and the comeback player of the year award, Manny Ramirez will lead the league in homers and win the MVP award and the Red Sox will win the World Series.

Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

Jacobs can be reached at bjacobs@campustimes.org.

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