Happy Opening Day II! Speaking of New York provincialism, I was amused to see Will Lietch talking about the “Mets or the Cubs — the two most beleaguered major-market franchises in sports.” What the hell? The Cubs, OK, and may this continue unto eternity. But the Mets? Even before last year, the Mets have had two World Championships (one a famous miracle team, the other a juggernaut that won one of the most famous World Series games ever,) a World Series appearance in the last 15 years and a playoff series win in the previous decade. Even granting the two recent pennant race collapses the idea that Mets fans are uniquely hard done by is absurd. It would seem to imply that for example the Rangers (4th largest media market in the U.S.), Eagles (7th), Lions (14th) and Mariners (15th) do not play in “major markets.” And even if we grant the provincial premise that there are only 3 “major markets” in the U.S., how are Mets fans more “beleaguered” than fans of the Knicks or Jets? Or even the White Sox? Really, Mets fans aren’t even close to the bottom insofar as suffering is concerned.
NL East: 1. NYM 2. WASH (*) 3. FLA 4. PHI 5. ATL I have some concerns about the Mets lineup — not only is not clear whether Wright will be able to stay in the lineup, it’s unclear if he can hit anymore — but their rotation should carry them to the division. There’s still a lot of talent in Washington, and Dusty Baker has a good record working with talented veterans (and just by being a professional manager has to be a major upgrade over Matt Williams.) I rate the also-rans based on the quantity of their young talent that figures to actually be on the field.
NL Central: 1. CHI 2. STL 3. PIT 4. CIN 5. MIL Like the East only with 3 good teams instead of two. I wish I could argue against the Cubs, but they probably have the best roster in the league, and they’re guided by first-rate field and upper management. Ick. I’ll be rooting for the Pirates to get one of the wildcards again but I think the Cards might be slightly better. The Reds and Brewers…they’d struggle to compete in a division a lot less stacked at the top than this one.
NL West: 1. SF 2. LAD(*) 3. ARI 4. SD 5. COL Should be a great race; I’ll pick the Giants by a nose not because of the even-year pattern but because of Bochy. The Diamondbacks are more interesting than the Padres and Rockies, but I don’t see them pushing the big boys barring a serious run of injuries.
AL East: 1. BOS 2. TOR (*) 3. NYY 4. TB 5. BAL I’ll reluctantly pick the Red Sox; I like the Blue Jays more when they’re playing their best lineup but I wouldn’t bet on 300 games from Tulowitski and Joey Bats and it could be a lot less, and Toronto’s rotation doesn’t leave them a lot of margin for error. The Yankees are a high variance-team; the bullpen is great, the rotation OK but a lot of health concerns, the offense likely to decline but who knows by how much. Since Howard is picking them in our annual charity bet, I’ll pick them to hang in but ultimately miss the playoffs. The projection systems like the Rays a lot but I see the worst lineup in the division and a rotation that’s good but not in the class of the Mets or Indians. The Orioles aren’t terrible but I don’t see them in the playoffs.
Al Central: 1. KC 2. CLE 3. DET 4. CHI 5. MIN As with the Rays, projection systems love the Indians, and they could certainly ride their great rotation to the division, but their lineup remains unimpressive (with the outfield in particular a train wreck); I’ll go with the more balanced Royals to beat the projections again. The Tigers are again a stars-and-scrubs team that can certainly win if they get healthy and good years from the former. The White Sox have probably the best pitcher in the league and one if its best young players and best closers and…that’s pretty much that (plus how can they survive without Drake LaRoche’s clubhouse leadership?) I see the Plexiglass Principle hitting the Twins hard, especially since they weren’t as good last year as their record.
Al West: 1. HOU 2. TEX(*) 3. SEA 4. LAA 5. OAK Interesting division. You have to pick Houston first, as they were both the youngest and best team in the division last year. The Mariners are the poor man’s Nationals; there’s more talent here than last year’s record reflects, and Cano seems likely to bounce back (and Christ, is Andy “He’s a real Character Guy not like that uppity Barry Bonds!” Van Slyke ever an asshole), but I’m not sure the lineup has enough depth to beat the Rangers. The Angels are somewhere between the Tigers and White Sox on the stars-and-scrubs continuum. It’s risky to underestimate the A’s, but I don’t see a lot there, and the Donaldson trade makes me wonder if it isn’t time for Beane to move on.