Opening day of the 2011 baseball season is just 15 days away. As an enthusiastic Marv Albert might say, Yesssss. So far, a lewd look has been given to the NL West, the AL West, and the NL Central. Today, it’s the AL Central, former resting place of Greg Luzinski’s gigantic head, Hal McRae’s temperament, members of the White Sox making out, and an Indians team that actually drew fans to baseball games. Right about now would be a splendid time to crack a beer with Jim Thome.
1. Minnesota Twins (2010 record: 94-68, 1st place) — Justin Morneau played 81 games last year, exactly half a season, and this team still won 94 games. That information alone should tell you everything you need to know about the Minnesota Twins, but I’ll continue. When they lost the once dominant Johan Santana after the 2007 season, they still won 88 games the following year. The Twinkies remind me a lot of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense over the last 15 years or so, in the sense that they continually plug the holes with younger players, and stay the course despite roster turnover. This season will be no different. A solid rotation in Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn (confirmed), and either Scott Baker or Kevin Slowey is enough to win the Central. And they will, but not before the usual 37 division lead changes and chaotic finish in the final week. Prediction: 89 wins
2. Chicago White Sox (2010 record: 88-74, 2nd place) — Many people are picking the White Sox to win the Central. I am not one of those people. Couldn’t do it. The discovery of the following video was the beginning of the freefall.
Apparently the White Sox are “coached” by Ozzie Guillen and “managed” by Kenny Williams. That’s just annoying. Might as well call bench coach Joey Cora the defensive coordinator. And “black out every home game”? With the nauseating Hawk Harrelson already firmly in place in the broadcast booth, I’m not sure this team can become any more unlikable. I do like John Danks, and I do expect Adam Dunn to go apeshit in that ballpark, but Jake Peavy is criminally overrated and Edwin Jackson is your classic Jekyll ‘n Hyde pitcher. Nothing but peaks and valleys with that clown. Second place it is. But, in first place forever is Ozzie Guillen’s wonderfully satisfying twitter feed. Prediction: 87 wins
3. Detroit Tigers (2010 record: 81-81, 3rd place) — When I first saw Jeremy Bonderman listed as a “key departure,” I drew a blank as to where he ended up signing, but that’s because he has yet to sign anywhere. According to fellow players, the 28-year-old starter plans to take the year off. Considering his fastball had been topping out at 89, that might be a good idea. So who rounds out the rotation after Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and the man responsible for courageously bodyslamming Youkilis, Rick Porcello? Apparently Phil Coke and Brad Penny. Coke spent his first three seasons in the majors as a reliever, throwing a career high 64 innings in 2010. Penny certainly has Jim Leyland doing the Irish jig thus far, but he started just nine games last year. Those four and five spots are looking shaky, but I guess there’s always
Armando Galarraga. No there isn’t. One of the names from this crop will have to be forced up. As for our pal Miggy, it’s probably a blessing in disguise that an issue arose so early on. Perhaps he’ll be able buckle down and focus for the entire season now that he basically has no choice but to do just that? Plus, lovable manager Jim Leyland — who refuses to leaves the 70s and I love him for it — told reporters yesterday not to worry about Miggy. So don’t. Jimmy knows best. Prediction: 86 wins
4. Cleveland Indians (2010 record: 69-93, 4th place) — The following two lines from FanGraphs are pretty telling; depressing, too: “The Indians look to run out almost an identical cast of players compared to last year, which is not a good sign from a group of players that had the fifth least number of runs scored in the all the majors.” Sounds like a party. “They will probably not be as bad this year, but poor hitting teams tend to play decent defense. That comparison is not true with the Indians.” A really shitty party. Remember when Grady Sizemore led off Game 4 of the ALDS with a solo shot off of Chien Ming-Wang that, for all intents and purposes, basically ended the series right there? That feels like 10 years ago. Since then, nude cell phone pics of Sizemore with a coffee mug covering his wang were leaked, and he had microfracture surgery performed on his knee. Poor guy needs a Road Beef swarm in the worst way. On the bright side? Youth! Of their five starters — Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Mitch Talbot, Carlos Carrasco, and Josh Tomlin — none of them are over the age of 27. Even better, the continued presence of Chief Wahoo means the Indians once again have, by far, the coolest hat in the majors. The glass is most certainly half full. Prediction: 71 wins
5. Kansas City Royals (2010 record: 67-95,000, 5th place) — The Kansas City Royals finished the 2010 season with a run differential of -169 (676 runs scored, 845 runs allowed). Unfortunately, the arrival of Jeff Francoeur, Lorenzo Cain, and the king of captivating YouTube videos, Melky Cabrera are not going to do much of anything to change things, but hey, it’s the Royals. If you care for this team, you must be willing to see the positive in even the smallest of things, like Kila Ka’aihue, who in 30-plus at-bats in the Cactus league is batting .433. Such news should force at least a few smiles to sprout in the Kansas City area, along with the names of golden nugget prospects, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. But that’s the future, the foul smelling present tense will remain the same. Junkball extraordinaire Bruce Chen is still a member of the starting rotation and Jason Kendall, while bizarrely passionate, still sucks. The funnest part of the season for Royals fans will be mid-summer (Moustakas in June) when the highly touted prospects arrive, all working their asses off in the hopes of not becoming the next Alex Gordon. Until then, stay busy. Prediction: 68 wins
With the presence of Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams, I wanted the official song for this division to be something cheerful, and at the same time thoughtful. That’s what led me to Drowning Pool:
[Photos via Getty]