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Red Sox should repeat

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By Larry Goffinet

Many sportswriters are picking Boston to win the World Series this year, which is kind of unusual for the Red Sox.

When they won the world title in 2004 and last year, virtually no one had predicted they would.

Even I was unsure last year, as Detroit looked to be a solid contender to dethrone them in the American League, though as it turned out injuries to Kenny Rogers and Gary Sheffield kept the Tigers from even making the playoffs.

The Tigers should be stronger this year with the addition of starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis, slugging third baseman Miguel Cabrera and former all-star shortstop Edgar Renteria.

Renteria hit .332 for Atlanta last year, but he will be 33 in August and this will be his fourth team in five years, which makes one wonder if several general managers think he is starting to lose some range in the field. And Cabrera's defense is sub-par.

Many think the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could also contend for the American League pennant this year with the addition of starting pitcher John Garland and center fielder Torii Hunter.

But to get Garland they traded all-star shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who won his second Gold Glove last year, and they don't have a proven major league shortstop to replace him.

Hunter is a Gold Glover in center field but they already had an excellent defensive center fielder in Gary Matthews Jr.

The addition of Hunter is supposed to make their offense better, as he hit 28 homers, drove in 107 runs and batted .287 last year.

But they lose Cabrera's .301 average and 86 RBIs, so how much better will their hitting be?

So I think one has to pick the Red Sox to repeat in the American League. After losing three key free agents from their 2004 world champions, Boston General Manager Theo Epstein learned his lesson and this time re-signed everyone who mattered from last year's team.

Red Sox detractors will mention Curt Schilling's shoulder injury (he will likely miss the first half of the season) and Josh Beckett's back spasms (not believed to be serious, but with pitchers one never knows) and question if they have enough starting pitching.

Some may even compare Clay Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter last year as a rookie, to Bo Belinsky, another pitcher who threw a rookie no-hitter and was also known for dating famous sex symbols (Buchholz's current flame is Penthouse Pet of the Year Erica Ellyson).

Belinsky never won more than 10 games in a season and finished his career 28-51.

But the Red Sox rotation still looks more sound than most. Daisuke Matsuzka should be better in his second year in the United States, and he won 15 games last year.

Boston's offense should also be better. Mike Lowell may not match last year's career highs, but David Ortiz, after successful knee surgery, and Manny Ramirez, playing for a new contract, should combine for at least 75 homers this year after hitting just 55 last year (Ortiz alone hit 54 in 2006).

The AL champ should be favored in the World Series also, as three of the last four World Series have ended in sweeps by the AL team.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, with the addition of slugging center fielder Andruw Jones, Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and manager Joe Torre should win the NL pennant.

My complete predictions:

AL East NL East

1. Boston 1. Philadelphia

1. New York 2. New York

3. Toronto 3. Atlanta

4. Tampa Bay 4. Washington

5. Baltimore 5. Florida

AL Central NL Central

1. Detroit 1. Chicago

2. Cleveland 2. St. Louis

3. Chicago 3. Milwaukee

4. Minnesota 4. Cincinnati

5. Kansas City 5. Houston

6. Pittsburgh

AL West NL West

1. L.A. Angels 1. Los Angeles

2. Seattle 2. Colorado

3. Oakland 3. Arizona

4. Texas 4. San Diego

5. San Francisco