THE NEWBERG REPORT — JANUARY 21, 2007

The old adage is that every team in baseball wins a third of its games, and every team loses a third of its games. It’s what you do with that other third, those 54 games, that defines you.

These are the things that I think, if they happen, tilt that final third so that those final six at home against Baltimore and the Angels and the season’s final series in Seattle will be happily decisive:

1. 27 wins out of Brandon McCarthy and Robinson Tejeda.

2. Better production in left field than 2006′s .273/.341/.469. (The outfield as a whole hit a disturbing .279/.337/.450, but to me left field, given this roster’s makeup, is the swing position.) The defense out there needs to be better, too.

3. A full season out of Hank Blalock that looks a lot more like his 2006 first half (.287/.352/.443) than his second half (.237/.289/.346), and a resurgent year from him defensively. Blalock’s off-season shoulder surgery and the change in managers seem stacked to favor his chances of a bounceback season. Now he needs to execute.

There will be unforeseen pluses in 2007 (none of us could have predicted what Gary Matthews Jr., Mark DeRosa, and Wes Littleton were going to do last year) and negatives (a collapse like Francisco Cordero’s, an injury like Adam Eaton’s). There are massive question marks (Eric Gagne’s effectiveness, Sammy Sosa, Vicente Padilla with financial security, and Nelson Cruz and Jason Botts, either of whom is just as likely to have 12 home runs at the Break as he is to be in AAA) and dead locks (Michael Young, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Millwood, Akinori Otsuka).

But give me my list of three, toss in an impact July trade (which is sure to happen as long as we’re in the race), and recognize the shape that the AL West is in — and I’m betting on this team contending all the way to the finish.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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