Two days 'til Opening Day
Since we mostly deal in Detroit sports here, I'll begin with some thoughts on our beloved Motor City Kitties.
▪▪ This might be drunk with homerism, but I think the Tigers will win 85 games this season. They're good enough to finish over .500, and Jim Leyland's a strong enough leader to push his guys past that threshold. The biggest obstacle to a winning record, however, might be the other teams in the AL Central Division, each of which look improved. It's possible that the Tigers could be better, yet still find themselves in fourth place.
So where does an 85-77 record leave the Tigers? I see them finising behind Chicago and Cleveland in the AL Central. But it'll be a tough race with Minnesota for that third spot. If Detroit's pitching improves, and the Twins still struggle with the bats, that could be the difference.
AL Central Standings:
5. Kansas City
▪▪ I think the Tigers' most important player this season will be Curtis Granderson. Obviously, a healthy Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez will go a long way toward dictating Detroit's success. But when Detroit's had quality play in centerfield - Remember Brian Hunter in 1997? - the Tigers have been competitive. And if Granderson can be a suitable leadoff hitter, giving the big bats someone to drive in, while also displaying good range and glove in centerfield, things could look good this summer at Comerica Park.
Other predictions for the season?
▪▪ In the American League, the division winners will be the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, and Oakland Athletics. The Wild Card will be the Toronto Blue Jays.
▪▪ In the National League, the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Dodgers will win their respective divisions. And because it wouldn't be the playoffs without them, the Atlanta Braves will be the Wild Card.
▪▪ Most Valuable Players: It's a boring pick, but Alex Rodriguez will repeat as AL MVP. This year, we might notice how great a season he has. And though we'll hate it in the Midwest and West, we'll have a New York sweep, as Carlos Delgado will love playing for a contender, and win the NL MVP with the Mets.
▪▪ Cy Young Awards: Oakland's pitching should carry them to the postseason, and if Rich Harden can stay healthy for a full season, he'll lead the way. In the National League, Mark Mulder is playing for a new contract, and if the Cardinals win the NL Central, their pitching will have to cover for their diminished hitting.
▪▪ And though Dave Sheinin pointed out that Major League Baseball is in an era of parity in Wednesday's Washington Post, I think we'll see a repeat World Series champion. The Chicago White Sox were largely dominant last season, holding off a last-minute regular season challenge by the Indians, and then just plowing through the playoffs. And with the additions of Jim Thome and Javier Vasquez, this year's team could be even better. So why won't they win again?