Not that it was every really cold down here in south Texas, but the sun is peaking out more than usual and it’s finally starting to feel like baseball season. Spring training games are officially underway and the Rangers are in last place in all of baseball! These games mean about as much as my grades at this point, but it warms my heart to see the HOU above the TEX nonetheless. In some basketball news, Rodman finds 'friend for life' in North Korea. This is one of my favorite news stories of all time. Are there two more unlikely friends anywhere than Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un? You’d be hard pressed to find a better pair. What are their conversations like? What could those two possibly talk about? On a related note, if you haven’t seen my second favorite tumblr, check out Kim Jong Un Looking at Things and then head over to my favorite: Smokin' Jay Cutler. I should note that while I am highly amused at this article, I wish for nothing but the best for Mr. Rodman and would absolutely love nothing more than to see him as the official U.S. ambassador in North Korea. And who knows, maybe he’ll end up saving the world.
Ok that’s enough basketball news, I’ll update everyone if and when Rodman is named official ambassador but for now, let’s take a look at the American League Central. It’s one of the stronger divisions in baseball and I think 4 of the 5 teams have a legitimate shot to win. In alphabetical order as always:
Chicago White Sox – At the beginning of every season the White Sox fool me into thinking they aren’t a very good team, and yet they are in the heat of the playoff race every September. I don’t expect this season to be any different. Nobody stands out on their roster other than the young pitcher Chris Sale and the old guys Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn (who is somehow still around and relatively productive). I think that this team lives and dies with Konerko more than anybody. If he has another solid season I don’t see why the White Sox won’t be in the thick of things again come September, but if he sees a drop-off, I don’t think the Sox have enough talent around him to be able to hang with some other teams in the league. Peavy has the #2 spot in the rotation behind Sale but there’s not a whole lot to love after that. Like I said, this team’s playoff chance resides in Konerko’s production and I don’t see any reason he wont be productive in his age 37 season. Because the American League is so loaded this season, I think they’ll finally fall short of the playoffs at around 82-80 but they’ll be in the thick of things until at least mid-September.
Cleveland Indians – For the first time since Grady Sizemore was patrolling centerfield, I really like this team’s offensive potential. Acquiring Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Drew Stubbs gives them more of a speed/power combo in the middle of the lineup than they’ve had in a while, and that’s not even mentioning Asdrubal Cabrera or Jason Kipnis up the middle. The real question is: Can they pitch? They have a couple of pitchers that have shown flashes of brilliance but can’t seem to maintain it for more than a month or two. If Masterson and Jimenez can pitch like they are capable of, and rookie Trevor Bauer is solid at the backend, this team has a ton of potential. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll play up to their potential yet and miss the playoffs, but they could be very good in year or two. I like them at 80-82, which is a considerable improvement from what the good people of Cleveland have been used to.
Detroit Tigers – They may have gotten swept in the World Series last year but they did manage to keep the core of their team together in the offseason and look poised to return this year. 2011 AL Cy-Young winner Justin Verlander returns to lead another impressive rotation with Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer falling in behind him, while last year’s debatable MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera continues to hold down third. The rest of the infield is comprised of Jhonny Peralta at SS, (yes, I spelled that correctly) Omar Infante at 2B and Prince Fielder over at 1B. These guys don’t have many weaknesses and the weaknesses they do have, Cabrera and Fielder more than make up for. I like the Tigers to finish around 89-75 and make another big splash in the playoffs.
Kansas City Royals – Inversely of the White Sox, the Royals are the team that everyone thinks will finally turn things around every season and never can seem to get over the hump. They were active in the offseason and traded top prospects Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi plus 2 other prospects to the Rays for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. I think Wil Myers is going to be a great ballplayer and he’s a top-3 MLB prospect on virtually every list you look at, so it seems to me that Tampa Bay definitely came away with the better end of the deal. I will say that this move does help the Royals for the immediate future and ups their chances for a playoff appearance this year, but I think it was bad for the long-term. Pitching behind Shields is still a bit of a question so I think they fall short of the playoffs again, but if they can outpitch my expectations (which shouldn’t be terribly hard to do) they might sneak into the playoff picture come September. I’m going to be conservative with this team until they prove they can consistently win and peg them at around 81-81 this season.
Minnesota Twins – The Twins are the only team that have a 0% chance of winning the division. Things are bleak in Minnesota, especially this time of year when everything is still frozen. Minnesota does have a couple of things going for them though: They have a beautiful stadium, and they get to host the 2014 All-Star game. Oh, and Joe Mauer is really cool (and expecting actual Minnesota twins!) but that’s about it. The rotation, led by Scott Diamond (if that tells you anything) is a disaster and it doesn’t get a whole lot better around him. Joe Mauer is still behind the plate and remains one of the premier catchers in the game, and Josh Willingham (who either strikes out or hits a HR, a la Adam Dunn) is their only real threat offensively. The only bullpen pitcher I can name is Brian Duensing and he is listed at #4 on their depth chart so no Twins lead is going to be safe this season. I love the city of Minneapolis (mostly in the summer) but this season is going to be rough for the Twins. I can’t see them anywhere but last in the AL Central and maybe in the entire American League. I have their record at 68-94, and that’s being generous only because I’m happy for Joe.
Final Regular Season Standings:
1) Detroit Tigers (89-75)
2) Chicago White Sox (82-80)
3) Kansas City Royals (81-81)
4) Cleveland Indians (80-82)
5) Minnesota Twins (68-94)