Mar 28, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Snow is still on the ground here – but never mind that, bring out the bats, gloves and pine tar and get to baseball already.
March 31 is a mighty early time to start a season, but they want an earlier finish and won’t budge from 162 games, so we’ll just have to cope. In a reversal from previews past, we’ll start in the other league and the other coast, because the champs reside there…
NL West – Everything broke right for San Francisco to win it all. Expecting the same from the Giants is a tall order, and already there’s troubling signs, like closer Brian Wilson’s bum oblique, so there might not be a beard to fear.
Colorado gave megabucks to Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to secure the future, and Gonzalez is actually worth it. San Diego will again lean on its arms to provide an encore to its surprising 2010 run, while two big names, Don Mattingly and Kirk Gibson, take over in Los Angeles and Arizona, respectively. Needless to say, the Dodgers’ path to contention is a lot shorter than the Diamondbacks at this point.
NL Central – No news here, really, other than the fact that Albert Pujols might leave St. Louis, Adam Wainwright is already gone for the season, Prince Fielder is set to bolt from Milwaukee and the Cubs championship quest is at 104 years and counting.
Given all that, Cincinnati, young and restless, has to feel quite good about its chances to repeat as it returns virtually intact. Too many clouds hang over the Cardinals, so the Brewers, with a win-or-else mentality, might give the Reds the best challenge.
Look out for the Cubs – in 2012, once Mike Quade’s sound methods sink in. Houston is even more future-oriented, which is better than Pittsburgh’s hopeless state as it slogs toward a 20th straight losing season.
NL East – Can we just go ahead and hand the title to Philadelphia again? Really, the Phillies’ hold on this division trumped all others in baseball before Cliff Lee signed. However, absences of any length from Chase Utley and Brad Lidge are concerns.
Atlanta begins something strange – life without Bobby Cox, but Fredi Gonzalez is a capable successor and the Braves can make Philly sweat a bit. This is a pivotal season for Florida as the Marlins have to move the meter before finally moving into its own ballpark next spring.
The Mets’ Madoff-tied woes fill far too many back pages (and have), but Terry Collins is the right guy to improve the on-field product. Washington waits for Steve Strasburg to heal, Bryce Harper to grow and Jayson Werth to justify his $126 million (!) bonanza.
AL West – Another pennant for Texas? The Rangers didn’t, or couldn’t, take much of a victory lap thanks to Lee’s departure, not to mention others (Vlad Guerrero), so it’s vital for a young lineup and pitching staff to prove that 2010 wasn’t an aberration.
Oakland is talking big this spring, with an actual commitment to spend a few bucks and a deep, imposing bullpen to make foes worry. Again, the Angels took on a big contract with Vernon Wells, but it may have given up too much in return, and health is a major concern. Seattle, other than Cy Young winner King Felix Hernandez, has little to shout about.
AL Central – Somehow Minnesota managed to control this division a season ago without Justin Morneau or Joe Nathan. Bring them back with any kind of production, and the Twins can win the pennant.
Of the others, only the White Sox and Detroit pose any real challenge as the South Siders lean on Jake Peavy’s full return from shoulder injuries that nearly ended his career and the Tigers will simply mash to get by.
Cleveland and Kansas City fall into the same category, their farm systems loaded with young talent that isn’t ready, so it will be a feat if the Tribe and/or Royals avoid the 90-loss syndrome again.
AL East – Yes, deal with it, I saved them for last. Absolutely no one expects Tampa Bay to get a third division title in four years after the Rays were forced to shed payroll, the likes of Carl Crawford and Matt Garza departing.
Of course Crawford went to Boston, whose underdog pretensions are long gone. The Red Sox and Yankees are more alike than ever, in that they can afford any guy they want and about 25 other teams can’t. This season, Boston appears to have the edge because the Yanks are not as deep, either at the plate or in the rotation.
And in any case Baltimore, goaded by new boss Buck Showalter, might offer a bigger challenge than in 15 years or so. Toronto remains a tough opponent, too- though Danny Bautista can’t hit 54 home runs again, right?
All this leads us to the annual Fearless World Series Prediction. Okay, perhaps it’s feckless, too, because there’s a better chance whatever I offer here will look foolish in a matter of weeks, not months.
Still, here goes….the Phillies win the National League (yawn), and the Twins (really) emerge in the American League (really). Philadelphia’s pitching staff just overwhelms the senses and dwarfs any NL rival’s intentions. The Twins do all the little things right and won’t have to endure the battle royal in the East, so they’ll be fresh for an October that might prove pretty cold. Just like the start, really.