Leave it to Johnny Damon to keep the eternal flame burning between the Evil Empire (aka the New York Yankees) and the Chowders (alias the Boston Red Sox).
Personally I like Damon with short hair, but I’m really pumped about another episode of major league baseball’s best rivalry (apologies to Dodgers and Giants) to gain overshadow anything that doesn’t have to do with George Steinbrenner.
We need to be reminded that the Chicago White Sox are the defending World Series champs, even if they still aren’t the most popular team in the Windy City. And don’t forget Canada, where Toronto suddenly found money in its wallet to spend, along with an AL West race that’s open house.
To recap from last week, we like the Mets, Cardinals and Padres early on in the National League. Now we’ll try to assess the AL, allowing for adjustments to be made as the season progresses. (Odds for winning the pennant courtesy of Casears Palace Race and Sports Book).
AL EAST: NY Yankees (3-2), Red Sox 5-2, Blue Jays 7-1, Orioles 35-1, Devil Rays (100-1).
Damon, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez as the first three batters is plain scary. No telling how many runs the Yankees can score. Randy Johnson figures to bounce back to usual form and Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer in major league history. The Red Sox still have Big Papi Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. If Josh Beckett brings his winning stuff from the Marlins and Curt Schilling returns to World Series form, Boston will be there.
Toronto is the X-factor, picking up Troy Glaus from the Diamondbacks and A.J. Burnett from the Marlins and closer B.J. Ryan from Baltimore. If all three click, things could get interesting at the top. Baltimore will miss Ryan, but they still have Miguel Tejada, Melvin Mora and a potential power rotation in Daniel Cabrera, Erik Bedard and Rodrigo Lopez. Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford is near the top of all fantasy league teams and the D’Rays love ex-Yankee top pitching prospect Scott Kazmir. Tampa has a lot of good, young talent but playing so many games against the Yanks and Boston is a death sentence.
CENTRAL: (Chi White Sox 3-2, Detroit Tigers 35-1, Indians 7-2, Twins, 11-1, Royals, 100-1): The White Sox are better than last year, if that’s possible, with the addition of Jim Thome (Phils) and Javier Vazquez (Yankees). Cleveland came oh so close last season, but the Tribe needs huge years from Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, along with production from closer Bob Wickman. There’s a lot of buzz I’m hearing from Detroit, and it’s about time the young Tigers step to the plate. Jeremy Bonderman could win 20 at pitching-friendly Comerica Park. Minnesota has now lost Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones. Unless Justin Morneau has a 30-HR, 100 RBI year, Johan Santana could win 20 for a losing ballclub. Kansas City still has a very pretty ballpark.
WEST: (Athletics 7-1, Rangers 22-1, LA Angels 7-2, Mariners 35-1): Oakland may have made the biggest steal in the offseason, picking up Frank Thomas as the DH. The Big Hurt could have one huge year left and that could be enough in a volatile division. I don’t see much difference from top to bottom. Hey, if Seattle is smart enough to bat Ichiro third like the great Sadahara Oh did for Japan in the WBC, the M’s stock goes way up. Texas can just mash, but can they pitch? The Angels will be right there if Bartolo Colon can somewhat maintain his weight and Vlad Guerrero stays injury free. A key will be moving Darin Erstad back to the outfield and inserting Casey Kotchman at first.
Next week: The ever-popular Baseball Page returns.