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     The best race to watch this year will be the American League West.
      The Rangers will get off to a red-hot start powered by the offense. The Mariners will hang tough just 4 games out through May. The As start well but Barry Zito goes down with elbow tendinitis in late April. The hole in the rotation proves to be bigger than missing Giambis bat. Oakland plummets, falling 12 games back by the end of June. The Angels rotation proves to be the most durable with no one missing a start until August. The Rangers offense begins to fall back to earth in June and they are passed by the Mariners and the Angels. Bret Boone begins to hit his 2001 stride again, powering the Ms into first. At the All-Star Break, Seattle is in first by 2 games over Anaheim, 3 over Texas and 7 over Oakland. After the break, Barry Zito returns and, having given up on Carlos Pena for the time being, the As insert Scott Hatteberg full-time and he blossoms hitting 18 home runs in the 2nd half.
       As August draws to a close, Freddy Garcia already has 20 wins but no one else in S-town has 12. The bullpen has kept the team in first by a half game over the Angels. The As have passed the Rangers and now sit just 2 games back while Texas has slid to 7 games out.
       September becomes the wildest month in recent history. Texas rebounds and all four teams are within 3 games of the division lead. Beginning September 9th every remaining game is a divisional match-up. Now we see the benefits of the unbalanced schedule.
        With three games remaining, the As and Angels are one game ahead of Texas and Seattle.
        Texas hosts Oakland and Anaheim hosts Seattle. Trade deadline acquisition Geoff Jenkins hits three home runs in two days but Oakland can only manage a split of the first two in Texas. In Anaheim, Seattle takes game one behind Jamie Moyers 15th win. Kevin Appier suffers the loss denying him 20 wins, he finishes 19-11. The second game goes to Seattle as well. Lou Piniella pushes all the right buttons. He starts rookie Gil Meche who goes 7 2/3 innings allowing only a solo home run to Garret Anderson. Kaz Sasaki picks up his league-leading 51st save.
       One game to go and the As and Mariners now sit one game up on Texas and Anaheim.
       Baseball panics about what to do if there is a four-way tie for first.
       Aaron Sele and the Angels falter early and go down easily 7-1 as Freddy Garcia wins his league-leading 25th game. The MLB offices let out a huge sigh of relief. Now there can only be a two-way tie. Only a two hours and 45 minute affair, it lets the Ms head back to the clubhouse to watch the end of the As Rangers game.
       In sharp contrast, the Oakland-Texas contest is a slugfest. Scott Hatteberg smacks two home runs in the first four innings but Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro each hit three-run dingers to chase starter Corey Lidle and Texas takes a 6-5 lead after four. After going to a four-man rotation in September, the bull pen is shot for the Rangers. Jerry Narron takes a risk and sends Todd Van Poppel in in the 5th. He gets knocked around. A Terence Long double scores two and Randy Velarde knocks in Long with a bloop single to give the As a two run lead. That holds until the 7th when A-Rod strikes again, this time with a bases clearing triple. Out goes Jim Mecir, in comes Mike Magnante to face Palmeiro. Stiffy strokes a hard shot up the middle and the Rangers lead by two. Narron hands the ball to his closer, Jeff Zimmerman and asks him to get the final six outs.
       He mows down the side in the eighth. Texas goes quietly in the bottom of the inning. In the top of the ninth, Long Flies out, Velarde grounds to short and David Justice steps to the plate. Much maligned for his .247 batting average, Justice has still managed to drive in 104 runs. On a 2-1 pitch Justice rips a fastball into the right field stands to pull the As to within one. But its not enough. Scott Hatteberg, on fire for two months collects 4 hits in the game but pops out to A-Rod for the final out. The Mariners win the west by one game over Texas and Oakland, two over Anaheim.
This is the first installment of my Major League Baseball predictions for the 2002 season.These predictions assume that there will be a full season of baseball this year. The pessimist in me believes a strike is looming but let us not dwell on such things.

We begin with the American League West:
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