Archive for March, 2012

When it comes to the world of baseball, progress could easily be spelled D-O-D-G-E-R-S. There’s no organization that has come out to the front lines of pushing forward the culture of the game like the Los Angeles Dodgers have. Beginning with the signing, and showcasing of Jackie Robinson, on to having the first Black MVP in the game’s history in Roy Campanella, African-American culture has had no difficulty finding a launch pad for its substantial cultural leaps and bounds in the game with the Brooklyn/LA club.

On Tuesday night, another cultural baseball first has a group headed by basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson put up the winning bid for the, which had been on the road towards a sale for over a year. However, the purchase of the team is far more than an end to a grueling status limbo for one of baseball’s third-winningiest franchise of all-time; it makes Magic the first African-American large scale owner in Major League Baseball’s 150 year history.

It’s not as if he didn’t pay the price to make history happen however. The winning bid paid out at $2 billion, which not only makes this the first ONE billion dollar team purchase in baseball history, it out paces the previous high bid for a MLB club ($845 million) by a large margin. It is the largest sale price for a team in professional sports history. Included in the deal are Dodger Stadium and half of the highly debated parking lots around the stadium, which previous owner Frank McCourt will retain half of. McCourt originally paid $340 million for the team, which he was forced to put up for sale due to a nasty divorce break.

Magic's presence in Dodger Stadium is a marriage of two of LA's most legendary icons, as well as a major cultural milemarker.

Initial finances aside, this is a marriage made in heaven. It digs the already substantially deep roots of the Dodgers in LA even deeper by bringing the city’s greatest sports icon of all-time to the head of its table. This deepens the devotion to the team, raises the profile in the game and also gives them a management that can bring a competitive image and edge back that the team has lacked.

And as for what it means for the culture, both baseball and society’s? It means the final stone in the progress of sports equality in the country’s oldest game is finally met. A sport, that just over 60 years ago, wouldn’t even let it’s Black players reside in the same hotel has the rest of their teammates, now has a man that couldn’t have technically resided with most of the players that now will call him their boss. He inherits a roster with one huge Black star in Matt Kemp leading the way now and another promising talent in Dee Gordon now making his way in Dodger blue as well, the bridge between the legacy of history made both years ago and now is a true vision made clear.

No telling what’s next, what the future may hold for the progress of the on-field Dodgers now. But for once, one tradition of the national pastime has held bold and true (Blue) yet again.

 

For more on the developments coming to Dodgertown, and the lead into Baseball season, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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The National League’s most ever-changing division lived up to its usual standard once again. It was the host to all sorts of arrays of breakout performances and competitive finishes that made it the most closely competed division in the league. The drama kicked off early when the previously cellar dwelling Arizona Diamondacks went on a tear through May, eclipsing the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants for the division lead. This was a lead they would hold on to for the long run, aided by a gruesome season-ending injury to Buster Posey, which kept the Giants from pulling back into the race. Propelled by Justin Upton coming into his own as one of the game’s all-around great talents and Ian Kennedy’s rise to leading the NL in wins, D’Backs became the most unlikely division champions in all of baseball.

Upton’s breakthrough, 31 homer campaign made him an MVP candidate, and catapulted the D’Backs from worst to first.

2010 Finish

  1. Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68)
  2. San Francisco Giants (86-76)
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers (82-79)
  4. Colorado Rockies (73-89)
  5. San Diego Padres (71-91)

All the while, the Los Angeles Dodgers off-field ownership wars nearly took the headlines from two timeless performances on it. Clayton Kershaw won the NL’s pitching Triple Crown and brought a third Cy Young winner in four years to the West and Matt Kemp had one of the great performances in recent history. So what happens this time around in the NL’s grab bag division? Can the D’Backs play with the same urge and intensity they did last summer and still hold down the division crown? Or will the once again full-strength Giants regain their grasp on the division. Can the top heavy Dodgers or Rockies get some stronger efforts from their supporting casts to help their superstars efforts pay off? Or can the Padres young ensemble follow the lead of last year’s D’Backs and pull off this year’s heist of the summer? Time will tell, but you’ll never see it coming out West, that’s for sure.

All-Division Team

Catcher: Buster Posey, Giants

First Base: Yonder Alonso, Padres

Second Base: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval, Giants

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

Left Field: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies

Center Field: Matt Kemp, Dodgers

Right Field: Justin Upton, Diamondbacks

 

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Tim Lincecum, Giants

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain, Giants

Starting Pitcher: Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks

Kershaw led the NL in wins (21), ERA (2.28) and strikeouts (248) to become the first Dodger Cy Young winner since 2003 at 23 years old.

Bullpen Righty: Sergio Romo, Giants

Bullpen Lefty: Rex Brothers, Rockies

Closer: Brian Wilson, Giants

 

Top 10 Players

  1. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
  2. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
  3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  4. Tim Lincecum, Giants
  5. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
  6. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
  7. Matt Cain, Giants
  8. Buster Posey, Giants
  9. Brian Wilson, Giants
  10. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks

 

Lineup

  1. Diamondbacks
  2. Giants
  3. Rockies
  4. Dodgers
  5. Padres

Top to bottom, the D’Backs have a unique mixture of speed, power and both rebound and growth potential. Jason Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt will provide a power axis behind Justin Upton & Chris Young’s balanced attack. The Giants receive a major boost in Posey’s return, which has served as a constant catalyst the to the SF attack. Cargo and Tulo is the NL’s best back-to-back tandem.

Kemp’s monstrous 2011 made him the first player since Hank Aaron to finish in the top two in both homers and steals in the same summer.

Rotation

  1. Giants
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Dodgers
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies

Lincecum and Cain get the big headlines, but Madison Bumgartner and Ryan Vogelsong both tied for the team lead in wins last year with 13 a piece. The Giants provided the least run support to any staff in baseball, but their top four starters each sported ERA’s fewer than 3.20. Trevor Cahill adds a former 18-game winner to the growing Arizona staff.

1-2 Punch

  1. Giants (Lincecum & Cain)
  2. Diamondbacks (Kennedy & Hudson)
  3. Dodgers (Kershaw & Billingsley)
  4. Padres (Stauffer & Richard)
  5. Rockies (Chacin & Guthrie)

Lincecum and Cain combined for only 25 wins a year ago, but it wasn’t for lack of effort on their part: the duo combined for a .219 average against last year. Ian Kennedy broke through last year, with a 21 win performance. Speaking of breaking through, anybody paired with Kershaw is bound to look pretty good, but Billingsley has won in double digits for the last five years, with over 150 strikeouts the last four.

The Giants rotation is anchored by two of the toughest to hit pitchers in the game, which often pitch in the toughest luck as well.

Bullpen

  1. Giants
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Dodgers
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies

The Frisco pen is the game’s best. Headlined by Wilson, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez among others are an extension of the dominance started at the beginning of the game. JJ Putz took a hold of his opportunity as an undisputed closer in Arizona a year ago and turned in a 45 save shutdown performance. Huston Street changes Western addresses for closing down games, taking over for Heath Bell in San Diego.

 

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Rockies (Tulowitzki/Gonzalez/Helton)
  2. Giants (Sandoval/Posey/Huff)
  3. Diamondbacks (Upton/Montero/Young)
  4. Dodgers (Kemp/Ethier/Loney)
  5. Padres (Maybin/Quentin/Alonso)

Tulowitzki and Gonzalez provide nearly all of the punch for the Rockies offering, but their combined effort is nearly enough still. Helton is far from out to the pasture, as he still topped .300 last year. Pablo Sandoval had a strong comeback effort last year, hitting .315, and is over .300 for his career. Upton and Young give the D’Backs two potential 30/30 threat. Kemp has set 50/50 as a goal; don’t laugh at that either.

Tulowitzki’s has become both the most prodigious offensive shortstop since Alex Rodriguez, and a back-to-back Gold Glove winner.

Tablesetters

  1. Giants (Pagan & Cabrera)
  2. Dodgers (Gordon & Ellis)
  3. Rockies (Fowler & Scutaro)
  4. Padres  (Venable & Headley)
  5. Diamondbacks (Bloomquist & Hill)

Pagan and Cabrera could prove to be one of the best hit and run duos in the game, for a team that really needs to emphasize small ball. Dee Gordon is poised to be the breakthrough leadoff hitter in the game, and stole 24 bases after debuting last June.

Bench

  1. Diamondbacks
  2. Padres
  3. Giants
  4. Rockies
  5. Dodgers

2011 Gold Glove winner Geraldo Parra will lead the way for a tough D’Backs bench, and Willie Bloomquist will be another boost once Stephen Drew reclaims shortstop. Tyler Colvin and Jason Giambi give the Rockies two real threats to change games late.

Defense

  1. Giants
  2. Rockies
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Padres
  5. Dodgers

The San Francisco pitching staff is backed by a solid defensive offering that keeps them intact. Sandoval is a surprisingly able third bagger and Posey’s presence will better the entire team as well. Tulowitzki and Scutaro will form a potent middle infield combo, while Gonzalez and Fowler can cover acres in the outfield. Kemp and Ethier have lived on reputation over results some in recent years.

Speed

  1.  Padres
  2. Dodgers
  3. Giants
  4. Rockies
  5. Diamondbacks

Cameron Maybin had a breakout season last year, and finished with 40 steals, while Will Venerable, Orlando Hudson, Jason Barlett and Chase Headley are all plus runners too. Kemp and Gordon will both surpass 30 steals easily in LA, while Pagan and Cabrera will move around the bases in a way the low power Giants desperately need.

After playing for 3 teams before turning 23, Maybin finally lived up to his potential and had a 40 steal breakout year for the Padres.

Manager

  1. Bruce Bochy, Giants
  2. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks
  3. Bud Black, Padres
  4. Jim Tracy, Rockies
  5. Don Mattingly, Dodgers

Bochy has gotten a ton from some limited resources on his team over the past few years, even in their World Series season. Same goes for Gibson, who took a talented, but directionless club from the cellar to a Division title last year, winning the NL Manager of the Year as a result. Year two for Mattingly should give him a better chance to operate, has the stresses of the sale of the team should subside.

Finances

  1. Giants
  2. Rockies
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Dodgers
  5. Padres

No team in the division has a ton of assets currently, and the Giants have to make a big decision on how to approach the forthcoming free agency of Cain. The Dodgers could potentially be big spenders soon, with whoever ends up buying the club most likely looking to make a big splash once taking control of the team. If they are in the race late, they could be in full on “buy it all” mode at the trade deadline.

Impact Additions

  1. Trevor Cahill (Diamondbacks from A’s)
  2. Melky Cabrera (Giants from Royals)
  3. Angel Pagan (Giants from Mets)
  4. Michael Cuddyer (Rockies from Twins)
  5. Jason Kubel (Diamondbacks from Twins)

Cahill was 6-0 out the gates of 2011 before slowing down. With the switch to the lighter hitting NL (and heavier hitting D’Backs), a return to his 2010 form should be expected. Cuddyer is the game’s most effective utility man, and will provide a huge bonus in Colorado as a right and left fielder, as well as a first, second and third baseman.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Buster Posey, Giants
  2. Dee Gordon, Dodgers
  3. Brandon Belt, Giants
  4. Cory Luebke, Padres
  5. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

Kind of odd to see Posey at the top of the list of break out candidates right? Well remember, we still haven’t seen a full year of him from start to finish in his two professional years. If he can work the magic he’s waved over the Giants’ lineup for a full year, in addition to Belt coming of age, runs will no longer be at a premium for Frisco. Paul Goldschmidt shows the potential to be an outright masher in the desert.

The invaluable Posey returns to both be a field general behind the plate, and the axis the Giants lineup revolves around.

Rookies/Prospects* to Watch

  1. Yonder Alonso (First Base, Padres)
  2. Trevor Bauer (Pitcher, Diamondbacks)
  3. Drew Pomaranz (Pitcher, Rockies)
  4. Nolan Arenado (Third Base, Rockies)
  5. Wilin Rosario (Catcher, Rockies)

Alonso was the key piece of the Padres decision to move ace Mat Latos to Cincinnati this winter, and for good reason. He’ll fit in as the everyday first baseman this year, and should be the team’s premier power hitter as well. Bauer was the third pick in last year’s draft, but already is forcing his way onto the Major League staff, and could have the best stuff of them all.

2012 PREDICTIONS

  1. Giants
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Rockies
  4. Dodgers
  5. Padres

It comes down to depth and details that separates the best from the rest out West. The Giants were the most talented team in the division last year until their offense sputtered out once Posey went on the DL in June. With Posey in or out of the lineup in his career, they have played either eight games better or eight games worst than the competition; a pretty remarkable difference. How his surgically repaired lower leg holds up over the summer will be important, but overall, this is a team that has few flaws. Cabrera and Pagan can reshape the energy for the team, and an ever improving Big Panda Sandoval could be up for an even bigger year with more support around him. Add this to a rotation that, with just two to three more runs a night, could have a pair of 20 game winners, and this is the hardest team to match up with night to night in the West.

Is this a slight against what the Diamondbacks did last year? No, not at all, and actually they should be about as good as they were a year ago this season. Aaron Hill turned the corner once he reached Phoenix last year and if Stephen Drew returns in good condition from the torn ACL that ended his summer early; this team could push the division race to its final days and snag a Wild Card for its efforts. The Rockies always have potential, and should score a good amount of runs, but they have a bad pitching staff in a division where that just won’t work. The Dodgers couldn’t do much to improve their club from where it was last summer, and lost some key pieces in Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake and Jonathan Broxton. It’s going to be tough to get better unless a sale goes through soon enough to impact their moves this year. The Padres have re-entered another rebuilding phase, and while they will be the best last place club in the league, it’s still last place all the same.

But buckle up for what will shape up to be the most exciting race for a division crown in all of baseball…with recent king taking the first step to reclaim its throne.

 

For more on where the National League will go this year, check back here in the upcoming days, and also follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

The American League East is the best collection of teams in all of sports. However, last summer/fall, it was also the scene of both biggest collapse and one of the greatest comebacks ever in sports as well. The Boston Red Sox entered the season with all of the juice, after owning the free agent market the previous winter. They also entered September with a 9.5 game lead….which they hacked off, and ultimately blew on the last day of the season, and put the Tampa Bay Rays into the playoffs.

Actual Standings

  1. New York Yankees (97-65)
  2. Tampa Bay Rays (91-71)
  3. Boston Red Sox (90-72)
  4. Toronto Blue Jays (81-81)
  5. Baltimore Orioles (69-93)

    Longoria's last inning walk off launched the Rays into another October, while dooming the Red Sox all at once.

So what now? The Yankees are the most consistent team in baseball over the last 5 years, but haven’t been able to break through since 2009. The Blue Jays and Orioles have been the perpetual underdogs, but have gone in different directions in their efforts to shake that role. Can the Rays keep the momentum of a strong finish last fall, coupled with another wave of young talent coming to the forefront? Finally, in Boston is the curse back or will they have a rebound season and take the fight to the rest of the division themselves this year…

All-Division Team

Catcher: Matt Wieters – Orioles

First Base: Adrian Gonzalez – Red Sox

Second Base: Robinson Cano – Yankees

Third Base: Evan Longoria – Rays

Shortstop: Derek Jeter – Yankees

Left Field: Carl Crawford – Red Sox

Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury – Red Sox

Right Field: Jose Bautista – Blue Jays

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz – Red Sox

 

Starting Pitcher: CC Sabathia – Yankees

Starting Pitcher: James Shields – Rays

Starting Pitcher: David Price – Rays         

Starting Pitcher: Jon Lester – Red Sox

Sabathia has averaged 19 wins per year in the Bronx since returning to the AL in 2009.

Bullpen Righty: David Robertson – Yankees

Bullpen Lefty: Darren Oliver – Blue Jays

Closer: Mariano Rivera – Yankees

 

Best Players

  1. Robinson Cano – Yankees
  2. Jose Bautista – Blue Jays
  3. Mariano Rivera – Yankees
  4. Evan Longoria – Rays
  5. Adrian Gonzalez – Red Sox
  6. CC Sabathia – Yankees
  7. Jacoby Ellsbury – Red Sox
  8. Mark Teixeira – Yankees
  9. Curtis Granderson – Yankees
  10. Dustin Pedroia – Red Sox

 

Bautista has taken many baseballs into the stratosphere the last two years. Now it's time to bring the rest of the Jays with him.

Lineup

  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. Blue Jays
  4. Rays
  5. Orioles

One thru seven, there is no such thing as a break in the Yankee lineup. They were in the top three in every major offensive category in 2011, and A-Rod is alledgely in the best shape he’s been in for years. In Boston, there are still some missing pieces to injury woes, but the potential is still there for them to be devastating as well. The Blue Jays are based around Joey Bats, but as a team they have led the AL in homers as recently as 2010, and are getting better.

Rotation

  1. Rays
  2. Yankees
  3. Red Sox
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

    Embarassment of Riches: Shields heads a dominant Rays staff, that actually has too few spots to let all of it's talent shine.

Top to bottom, there’s no better group in baseball than Tampa’s. After the obvious headache of James Shields and David Price at the top, there’s 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, then either Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann, and finally topped off by uber-prospect Matt Moore, who could make it back-to-back Rays ROY’s. If Phil Hughes can round back into shape, coupled with repeat rookie performances from Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, the Yanks could have their best arms offering in years.

1-2 Punch

  1. Rays (Shields & Price)
  2. Yankees (Sabathia & Pineda)
  3. Red sox (Beckett & Lester)
  4. Blue Jays (Romero & Morrow)
  5. Orioles (Britton & Hammel)

In the last two years, both Shields and Price have taken turns finishing in the top 3 in Cy Young voting. Price racked up a career high 218 K’s last summer, and “Complete Game” James led the MLB with 11 games started and finished. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester both have all the stuff in the world, but lacks of health and focus hid that for much of last year. Ricky Romero is one of the best arms nobody talks about up in T-Dot.

Bullpen

  1. Yankees
  2. Blue Jays
  3. Red Sox
  4. Rays
  5. Orioles

If the starters lag, the Yanks have more than enough firepower held back. In what could be Rivera’s victory lap season, he’s joined by Robertson and Rafeal Soriano, both former All-Stars in their own right. Francisco Cordero and Sergio Santos both joined the Toronto pen this winter and will be a tough 8-9 combo. Andrew Bailey is has been annually among the best ninth inning guys in the biz, and will come out of the shadows of Oakland to showcase in Boston this year.

Tablesetters

  1. Red Sox (Ellsbury & Pedroia)
  2. Yankees (Jeter & Granderson)
  3. Rays (Jennings & Upton)
  4. Blue Jays (Escober & Johnson)
  5. Orioles (Chavez & Hardy)

Ellsbury was always a burner on the bases, but he took his game to another level last year, knocking out 32 homers while still swiping 39 bags. Pedroia is one of the best do-it-all guys in the game, and stole 29 bases of his own in ’10. Granderson brings 40 home run power to the second spot in the Yankee ambush, while Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton both have a very real shot at 40 steals this year.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Yankees (Cano/Teixeira/Rodriguez)
  2. Red Sox (Gonzalez/Youkilis/Ortiz)
  3. Rays (Longoria/Pena/Zobrist)
  4. Blue Jays (Bautista/Lind/Encarnacion)
  5. Orioles (Markakis/Jones/Wieters)

As a unit, there’s no more dangerous core of any lineup than the Yanks 3-4-5. Cano has hit .300 with 40 doubles and 25 homers for the last three years, Teixeira has averaged 37 homers a year since coming to the Bronx and A-Rod only has, oh, 629 homers himself. Carlos Pena comes to find himself in nice company between two of the game’s most complete players in Tampa, and Bautista has hit 97 homers over the last two years. If Carl Crawford gets healthy, he takes the Red Sox group to another level.

Markakis and Jones are two of the few bright spots in a rough situation in Baltimore.

Bench

  1. Red Sox
  2. Yankees
  3. Rays
  4. Orioles
  5. Blue Jays

Darnell McDonald, Mike Aviles and Nick Punto give the Sox a very versatile offering that really fortifies their defensive potential. Francisco Cervelli is a starter quality backstop in many places, perhaps including New York. Jeff Keppinger is a toolsy player that Joe Maddon will make good use of.

Defense

  1. Rays
  2. Yankees
  3. Orioles
  4. Red Sox
  5. Blue Jays

There’s no where the Rays are bad on defense, and it is a major reason why their more hallowed pitching staff has the success it does. Longoria and Pena can shutdown the corners, while Upton, Jennings and Joyce may be the best defensive outfield in baseball. Cano and Teixeira make hitting the ball through the right side nearly impossible in NY.

Speed

  1. Rays
  2. Red Sox
  3. Yankees
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

The Rays are young and play like it. They get plus speed from several places, and Ben Zobrist has 43 steals while only being cut down nine times over the last two years. Pedroia, Ellsbury and Crawford, if ever on the field together for long, could swipe 100 bags easy. On the other side, the Orioles have been very stationary since injuries took under Brian Roberts two years ago.

Manager

  1. Joe Maddon, Rays
  2. Joe Girardi, Yankees
  3. Bobby Valentine, Red Sox
  4. Buck Showalter, Orioles
  5. John Farrell, Blue Jays

Maddon gets more out of his squad, in spite of nearly constantly playing against the odds, than any other manager in the game. On the other side, it’s often popular to think the Yankees just buy wins, but Girardi is a great manager of both players and people. For a team coming off a tumultuous year, it will be interesting to see how the lively Valentine injects himself into steadying a situation such as the Sox locker room.

Valentine will be charged with settling down a carnival of both talent and personality in year one in Boston.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Matt Moore (Pitcher, Rays)
  2. Felix Doubront (Pitcher, Red Sox)
  3. Dellin Betances (Pitcher, Yankees)
  4. Travis D’Arnaud (Catcher, Blue Jays)
  5. Tsuyoshi Wada (Pitcher, Orioles)

Moore is so talented that no less of a baseball mind than Maddon recognized he was talented enough to kick off the Rays playoff stand last year as Game 1 starter after only nine innings of MLB experience beforehand. Doubront could be a major factor on if a turnaround season in Fenway really can happen. Japanese import Wada could be a very important factor in stabilizing the Orioles shaky pitching.

Finances

  1. Red Sox
  2. Yankees
  3. Orioles
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Rays

The Red Sox and Yankees battles on the field are legendary, but their battles at the bank are nearly just as legendary. The edge in the financial war goes to the Sox right now, as they have more needs that they are willing to pay out for throughout the year. Also, the Yanks have to be cognizant of not picking up many more big contracts so they don’t violate the payroll penalty feature of the new CBA agreement.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays
  2. Desmond Jennings, Rays
  3. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
  4. Daniel Bard, Red Sox
  5. Sergio Santos, Blue Jays

Evan Longoria is the best third baseman in baseball. However, in a few years he may not even be the best in his own division, by no fault of his own. Toronto’s 22 year old third sacker is the truth, and he’s about to get his first full year to show it. Jennings showed why losing Crawford was more than manageable for the Rays, after hitting 10 homers and stealing 20 bases in 63 late season games. Hellickson has right handed Tom Glavine written all over him, and kept his ERA under three as a rookie in baseball’s best hitting division.

Impact Additions

  1. Michael Pineda, (Yankees from Mariners)
  2. Andrew Bailey (Red Sox from A’s)
  3. Mark Melancon (Red Sox from Astros)
  4. Carlos Pena (Rays from Cubs)
  5. Cody Ross (Red Sox from Giants)

Pineda was often the most impressive pitcher in Seattle a year ago, which is saying A LOT since he was following behind Felix Hernandez. But the 6’7 righty was often dominant, making the All-Star Game as a rookie. Bailey can relate to this scenario, as he moves east after being Rookie of the Year and an All-Star twice in his first two seasons. Along with Melancon, the backend of the Sox pen will tough.

 

2011 PROJECTION

  1. Rays
  2. Yankees
  3. Red Sox
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

Baseball’s five tools are hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, throwing and defense. And the Rays are by and far the best at doing a little bit of everything in the game. Top off their talent in the field with a manager in Maddon that can get the most of team consistently, and a team that will find more ways to win than any other in the game. They just play pure detail, intangible surplus baseball.

And it’s not that it will be easy though. The Yankees will potentially be a better team than they were a year ago. They’ll score a lot of runs and get a definite chance to win every fifth day on CC’s turn. But how will their revamped and rehabbed pitching staff do? They’ve tried to hit their way to the title the last two years, but have come up short.

Not much reason to think anything different will happen this year yet. It could also be a repeat story in Boston and Toronto. To the Blue Jays credit, they have continually gotten better over the last two years, and could be ready to take another gradual step this year by snatching third place from the Red Sox. However, last season very well still could be an aberration for the BoSox. There’s so much talent on that team, and some smart additions as well, it would be foolish to count them out.  However, it would be foolish to think that the perpetually backsliding Orioles will do anything different this summer, and I smell a fire sale of the few attractive parts of that collection coming up this summer.

If this year’s Wild Card rules were in play last year, three AL East teams would have made the postseason, and that very well could still happen this year. But in the end, the south (of the division) shall rise again. The East’s Florida contingent won in 2008, then in 2010 and in ’12, they’ll take home another title.

 

Don’t forget to check out both the American League West & Central previews from this week as well.

 

Next week, its National League forecast time during the last week of Spring Training. What does the Senior Circuit have in store? For the lead up to that, and reflections on this and more, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

The 2011 AL Central was a tale of two halves. The Minnesota Twins were ravished by injuries, and “completed” for the league’s worst record instead of a third straight Central crown. The Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians played the opposite game early in the year, going from the outhouse to the penthouse and battling for the top of the division, until the Chicago White Sox entered the fray as well. But then the Tigers woke up, and never laid their heads down again.

2011 Finish

  1. Detroit Tigers (95-67)
  2. Cleveland Indians (80-82)
  3. Chicago White Sox (79-83)
  4. Kansas City Royals (71-91)
  5. Minnesota Twins (63-99)

Propelled by Justin Verlander’s unstoppable run that ended up with 25 wins and becoming the first dual MVP/Cy Young winning starting pitcher since 1986, as well as batting champion Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers went unconscious. They built up a 38-16 in August & September, and won the division by 15 games. All the while, Chicago’s huge offseason signing Adam Dunn had perhaps the worst season in MLB history (high strikeout total than batting average), the Joe Mauer & Justin Morneau missed a total of 173 games for Minnesota, the Royals caved in to their youth and the Indians couldn’t keep up for the long haul.

Now a year later, the Tigers still have their foot on the gas, and adding slugger Prince Fielder to their attack and enter the season in better shape than they ended the last in. How will the rest of the division cope? Will it still be up for grabs like it was for the first half of its story a year ago, with one the newly rehabbed and matured teams snatching the ring? Or will the defending Champs pick up where they left off, plus some?

All Division Team

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins

First Base: Prince Fielder, Tigers

Second Base: Jason Kipnis, Indians

Third Base: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

Shortstop: Astrubal Cabrera, Indians

Left Field: Alex Gordon, Royals

Center Field: Austin Jackson, Tigers

Right Field: Shin-Shoo Choo, Indians

Designated Hitter: Billy Butler, Royals

The rich got a lot richer with Fielder coming to Detroit...in every possible way that statement can be applied.

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander, Tigers

Starting Pitcher: John Danks, White Sox

Starting Pitcher: Justin Masterson, Indians

Starting Pitcher: Doug Fister, Tigers

Bullpen Righty: Joaquin Benoit, Tigers

Bullpen Lefty: Tony Sipp, Indians

Closer: Jose Valverde, Tigers

Best Players

  1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
  2. Justin Verlander, Tigers
  3. Prince Fielder, Tigers
  4. Joe Mauer, Twins
  5. Jose Valerde, Tigers
  6. Paul Konerko, White Sox
  7. Eric Hosmer, Royals
  8. Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians
  9. Alex Gordon, Royals
  10. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians

Mauer is a .323 career hitter with three batting titles all before the age of 30.

Lineup

  1. Tigers
  2. Indians
  3. Royals
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

The Tigers run away with this even after losing their second best bat for the year in Victor Martinez. It’s hard to believe that Fielder could leave Ryan Braun behind and find a better guy to hit behind, but he has done it in Cabrera. Add Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, Delmon Young and Brendan Boesch to the mix and it’s scary in the D. The Indians have Kipnis and Carlos Santana primed to have big breakthrough seasons. The Royals now have two legit power bats in Hosmer and Mike Moustakas that are ready to launch their developing lineup into a new level of productivity this year.

Rotation

  1. Tigers
  2. Indians
  3. Royals
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

Verlander is the class of AL pitchers, and Doug Fister found the perfect ballpark for his ground ball-inducing style in Comerica. The Indians have a lot of depth in their rotaton, and if Ubaldo Jimenez can recapture his NL form, they will be formidable match for the Tigers. Francisco Liriano has looked like he shook off whatever curse he had last year this spring, and would be a big boost for Minnesota’s fortunes if he keeps it up.

25 wins, a no hitter, a Cy Young and an MVP; Verlander turned his 2011 alone into what stands for a great career for most.

1-2 Punch

  1. Tigers (Verlander & Scherzer)
  2. Indians (Jimenez & Masterson)
  3. White Sox (Floyd & Danks)
  4. Royals (Hochevar & Sanchez)
  5. Twins (Pavano & Baker)

Verlander himself may be better than most of the other combos in this division, but Scherzer is capable of greatness himself, if not consistency. The same goes for Jimenez, and Masterson is developing into one of the game’s best. Hochevar and Sanchez have huge ceilings and could be one of the most surprising duos in the game. If the White Sox keep Danks and Floyd together all season, the payout could be great, but that’s a big if.

Bullpen

  1. Tigers
  2. Indians
  3. White Sox
  4. Royals
  5. Twins

Valverde didn’t waste a save opportunity last season and returns to anchor a Tiger bullpen with a lot of quality arms. Chris Perez’s health is big for Cleveland, and Chicago’s pen will have a lot of guys settling into new, if not still temporary roles. The Royals pen had a chance to be a real strength, but potential Tommy John surgery for Joakim Soria may have them scraping for another year for consistency.

Tablesetters

  1. Tigers (Jackson & Boesch)
  2. White Sox (De Aza & Ramirez)
  3. Royals (Gordon & Giovantella)
  4. Indians (Brantley & Kipnis)
  5. Twins (Span & Carroll)
 

There are a lot of unconventional duos atop lineups in this division, but each has strong potential. Boesch will benefit from hitting in front of Cabrera & Fielder, and if Austin Jackson raises his on-base percentage past…. He could lead the AL in runs scored. De Aza has the potential to be a Juan Pierre clone, and if Minnesota cuts Denard Span lose more in an attempt to raise his trade marketability; he could put up big steal numbers. Gordon led the AL in doubles last season, and added 17 Steals as well.

Heart of the Order

  1. Tigers (Cabrera/Fielder/Young)
  2. Royals (Hosmer/Butler/Francouer)
  3. Indians (Choo/Santana/Hafner)
  4. Twins (Mauer/Morneau/Willingham)
  5. White Sox (Konerko/Dunn/Morel)

Pairing a Cabrera, who has averaged 35 homers over the last five years, with Fielder, who has averaged 40 a summer over the same time, is flat terrifying. It places the middle of Tigers order at the top of all of baseball just from its 3-4 alone. Hosmer is primed to be among the great hitters in the game already, and Carlos Santana brings nearly as precocious of a stick to Cleveland as well. The perhaps no lineup is more dependent on “ifs” than the White Sox on Dunn, and the Twins on both Mauer and Morneau.

Dunn is showing signs of turnaround this spring from his horrendous 2011 debut on the South Side.

Depth

  1. Tigers
  2. Royals
  3. Indians
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

Brandon Inge and Ramon Santiago give the Tigers two very versatile players to plug in all over the place, and Gerald Laird is an important pick up to spell Avila, who wore out at the end of last season. In KC, Yuliensky Betancourt, Chris Getz and Mitch Maier will all provide sparks to KC, all before they dig into their substantially deep minor league crop as well. Kosuke Fukodome could be an important sub in Chicago.

Defense

  1. Royals
  2. White Sox
  3. Indians
  4. Tigers
  5. Twins

The Royals feature a Gold Glover in Gordon in right, as well as rightful winners (in my opinion) from a year ago in the right field and shortstop in Jeff Francouer and Alcides Escobar. They can cover the field well at every position. Chicago runs out a very good infield defense, headed by Alexei Ramirez. The Tigers crutch will be an underwhelming defense to match the output their offense puts on the board.

Escobar is one of the game's finest defenders at any position, and was the top prize gained for Zack Greinke.

Speed

  1. Royals
  2. White Sox
  3. Twins
  4. Indians
  5. Tigers

The young Royals have young legs as well. Gordon, Escobar and Johnny Giovantella can move. Even Hosmer stole 10 bases as a rookie, so KC is not afraid to find ways to take the extra base. De Aza and Ramirez can be firestarters in Chicago, as can Denard Span, Ben Revere and Jamey Carroll for the Twins.

Manager

  1. Tigers
  2. Twins
  3. Indians
  4. Royals
  5. White Sox

Giving Jim Leyland an abundance of talent is almost always the recipe for success, and he’s got as much this season as he’s ever had in Detroit. The Twins are coming off of a brutal 2011, but Ron Gardenhire is among the absolute best minds in the game, and if he has a healthy team, they could be a big surprise. Robin Ventura will go from ESPN College World Series commentator, to head of the Sox bench this year.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Addison Reed (Pitcher, White Sox)
  2. Salvador Perez (Catcher, Royals)
  3. Mike Montgomery (Pitcher, Royals)
  4. Jacob Turner (Pitcher, Tigers)
  5. Chris Parmalee (First Baseman, Twins)

Reed sits in the mid to high 90’s and projects as the future closer of the team since Chris Sale has moved to the rotation and Sergio Santos was traded away. Perez hit .331 in a brief call-up at the end of the season, but after tearing his MCL this spring, it will be until after the All-Star break that he can return.

Finances

  1. Indians
  2. Tigers
  3. White Sox
  4. Royals
  5. Twins

The Indians have been aggressive in improving their roster since their surprising start, and stay, around the top of the Central last year. While they didn’t make a big splash in the winter market, they don’t seem to be afraid to go after whatever they may need. The Tigers have 3 players making $20 annually now, but being as close as they are to a title, they probably won’t be shy about future smart moves either.

Jimenez landing in Cleveland was a product of the Indians' new found aggressive approach on to the market.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Eric Hosmer, Royals
  2. Mike Moustakas, Royals
  3. Luke Hochevar, Royals
  4. Brendan Boesch, Tigers
  5. Danny Valencia, Twins

The future is nearly now for the Royals and the first wave of their extremely talented minor league crops are poised to make an impact in KC this summer. Hosmer is looking more and more like a Joey Votto-type and could have his first type of season the former MVP as made routine this summer. Moustakas will see benefit from his many plate appearances a year ago, and Hochevar was quietly one of the most successful second half pitchers in the AL last year.

Impact Additions

  1. Prince Fielder (Tigers from Brewers)
  2. Jonathan Sanchez (Royals from Giants)
  3. Josh Willingham (Twins from A’s)
  4. Jonathan Broxton (Royals from Dodgers)
  5. Derek Lowe (Indians from Braves)

Fielder’s winter patience paid off in the form of a massive nine year, $214 million dollar deal that instantly changed the AL forecast. Sanchez has a ton of potential, and the hard throwing lefty will bring championship experience to the young Royals.  The steady Willingham (20+ homers four of the last six years) should fit into the middle of the Twins lineup nicely as a replacement for All-Star Michael Cuddyer.

PREDICTIONS

  1. Tigers
  2. Indians
  3. Royals
  4. White Sox
  5. Twins

Last year, the Tigers closed the gap on the Indians in July, and ran away in August. This season however, they should have such difficulties. But a team that returns virtually everyone else, along with an improved bullpen and a 50 homer candidate in Fielder, it is primed to have one of the best seasons in franchise history. However, it won’t be a path that they walk to easily, because nearly every other team in the division has improved in its own, if yet a bit more understated, way.

The Indians have revamped their approach via balanced moves and growth from within, and have very few weaknesses on their roster. It’s just a matter of having the rare favor of health on their side and a breakthrough season or two. With a bit more endurance, they could easily push for the division crown. The Royals have been moving along gradually, but they have some exciting young talent in the works and could easily be this year’s Arizona Diamondbacks and pull the upset special of the summer. However, the loss of Joakim Soria is a major speed bump in that effort, yet if any team could pull a big surprise move in the AL this year, it’s them.

If Dunn, Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez can wake up before the White Sox go into full fire sale mode this summer, they could easily make some noise in a hurry. And take all of those same sentiments, change the names and apply them to the Twins, and the same situation applies.

But in the end, there’s no uncertainties around the team that returns the League’s MVP and Cy Young rolled in one, starts five current or former All-Stars, one of the game’s best managers and have the confidence of being the returning division champs as well. The time is now for the Detroit Tigers, and they have far less hurdles to the top than any other Central club does…and a lot more weapons to fight their way there with. The Tigers roll this year.

Come back next time as I turn my sights on the toughest division in all of sports: the AL East. Who will have the chops to breakthrough in what is sure to be the game’s best drama yet again?

 In the meantime, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Take a look back at 2010. Now take a look at 2011. In the American League West, you may get confused as to what year you’re looking at, as no matter which version you glance over, it all begins and ends in one place: Arlington. The Texas Rangers have reigned over the American League over the last two years, due to a relentless lineup and timely pitching. They have won the division by no less than nine games in each season, and pushed to within one out of the franchise’s first World Series. It’s been a good run.

2011 Final Standings

  1. Texas Rangers (96-66)
  2. Los Angeles Angels (86-76)
  3. Oakland A’s (74-88)
  4. Seattle Mariners (67-95)

But when you’re on top, somebody’s always shooting for you. And this winter, the Rangers’ top rivals in the West reloaded like no team has before. The Angels went out, paid the price and landed the biggest gun in baseball’s arsenal this winter and switched the whole game up overnight. The Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners both made more strategic, yet impactful changes to their makeup as well.

But is any of it enough to dethrone the AL’s premier team? Let’s take a look at every inch of the West in CSP’s 2012 AL West preview….

All Division Team

Catcher: Mike Napoli – Rangers

First Base: Albert Pujols – Angels

Second Base: Ian Kinsler – Rangers

Third Base: Adrian Beltre – Rangers

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus – Rangers

Left Field: Coco Crisp – Athletics

Center Field: Josh Hamilton – Rangers

Right Field: Ichiro – Mariners

Designated Hitter: Michael Young – Rangers

Hamilton will follow up a roller coaster year with a contract push summer in 2012, as well as a third consecutive World Series.

Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez – Mariners

Starting Pitcher: Jared Weaver – Angels

Starting Pitcher: Dan Haren – Angels

Starting Pitcher: CJ Wilson – Angels

Bullpen Righty: Mike Adams – Rangers

Bullpen Lefty: Scott Downs – Angels

Closer: Brandon League – Mariners

Top 10 Players

  1. Albert Pujols, Angels
  2. Josh Hamilton, Rangers
  3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
  4. Jared Weaver, Angels
  5. Ichiro, Mariners
  1. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
  2. Ian Kinsler, Rangers
  3. Dan Haren, Angels
  4. Michael Young, Rangers
  5. Elvis Andrus, Rangers

Ichiro's hits and average slid last summer, but he still notched 40 steals along the way.

Lineup

  1. Rangers
  2. Angels
  3. A’s
  4. Mariners

The Rangers were top 3 in the AL in average, home runs, runs scored and total bases, and could be better without adding a single piece. If Mike Napoli keeps up the pace he raked at over the second half of the year, and a contract year Josh Hamilton, with a bit of chip on his shoulder as well, hits as he is capable of, the nightmare in Arlington will continue. The Angels however, didn’t do much but what they did was major. Pujols’ addition will turn the Angels solid overall attack into potentially one of the most fearsome in the game. The A’s will lean heavily on untested new additions Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez, once he returns from his 50 game PED suspension.

Rotation

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. A’s
  4. Mariners

The Angels’ top three of Weaver, Haren and Ervin Santana were already tough enough, but their lifting of CJ Wilson from their division rival Rangers makes them a headache nearly all week now. The Rangers countered by adding Japanese ace Yu Darvish, but the 10 game differences between the two clubs last summer will be tested by the 16-game winner Wilson switching caps.

Weaver set the April wins record to start last season, and ended it runner up in the Cy Young race.

1-2 Punch

  1. Angels (Weaver & Haren)
  2. Mariners (Hernandez & Vargas)
  3. Rangers (Lewis & Holland)
  4. A’s (McCarthy & Colon)

As mentioned above, the Angels’ staff is headed by one of the most potent duos in either league. Weaver and Haren combined for 34 wins, a 2.79 ERA and 390 strikeouts a year ago, with Weaver finishing second in the Cy Young vote. Don’t sleep on the Mariners duo however, with the dominant King Felix at the top, followed by Jason Vargas, who racked up three shutouts a year ago.

Bullpen

  1. Rangers
  2. Angels
  3. A’s
  4. Mariners

The Texas pen is so good that it will lose its All-Star closer, Neftali Feliz, to its rotation and barely skips a beat. With Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, Alexi Ugando and Koji Uehara are waiting later on, teams’ better burn their starters beyond recognition. The Angels have a very balanced pen, Downs, LaTroy Hawkins and Jordan Walden at the end. Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes head up a transitional Oakland staff with some strong young arms, and Brandon League will anchor a Mariner pen that will deliver him plenty of save chances yet again.

Tablesetters

  1. Rangers (Kinsler/Andrus)
  2. Mariners (Figgins/Ackley)
  3. A’s (Weeks/Pennington)
  4. Angels (Aybar/Abreu)

There’s arguably no more dynamic leadoff combination than Kinsler and Andrus, both possessing 30 steal potential and will continually put themselves on in front of the hell that is the middle of the Texas lineup. Ackley was highly productive after a late season promotion to Seattle, as was Jemile Weeks, who hit .300 and stole over 20 bags as a rook in ’10.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Rangers (Hamilton/Young/Beltre)
  2. Angels (Pujols/Hunter/Kendrick)
  3. Mariners (Ichiro/Carp/Montero)
  4. A’s (Crisp/Smith/Reddick)

Young had a career highs with a .338 average and 106 RBI last season, his first as a full-time DH.

It may be wiser to pray than pitch to the middle of the Rangers order. Hamilton is a career .308 hitter, with off the charts power. Beltre cracked 30 homers and 30 doubles a year ago, and in the middle is Young, who’s coming off a .338, batting title runner up season. Pujols single handedly will boost the output of Torii Hunter back to his vintage levels, while in Seattle a whole new Ichiro could be unleashed on the league, as he moves to the third spot from being one of the greatest leadoff hitters ever.

Bench

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. Mariners
  4. A’s

The Angels have depth, and it’s even spilled over into issue. They have the “problem” of finding spots for Bobby Abreu, Mike Trumbo, Kendry Morales, Ryan Langerhans and Maicer Izturis. There will be a revolving look for them all year. David Murphy and Yorvit Torrealeba are starter quality players on many other teams, and will get their fair share in Texas as well.

Defense

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. Mariners
  4. A’s

Pujols bat gets the headlines, but his glove saves many games as well. Coupled with another Gold Glove winner in Erick Aybar, a 9-time winner in Torii Hunter and a shoe in for a few in the future, Peter Bourjos, the Angels should be tough to sneak one past. Texas puts a Gold Glove winner on the field in Beltre, and two others that could easily win one any season as well in Andrus and Kinsler, one of the best double play duos in the league. Seattle runs out shutdown outfield combo of Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro as well.

Speed

  1. Mariners
  2. Rangers
  3. A’s
  4. Angels

Ichiro stole 40 bases again, and Chone Figgins (if he can remember how to get on base again) is also a huge speed threat. Add in Ackley and Gutierrez, and the Mariners can move both on the bases and in the field. The Rangers were 4th in the AL in team steals a year ago, and Coco Crisp led the AL in swipes with 49.

Manager

  1. Mike Scioscia, Angels
  2. Ron Washington, Rangers
  3. Bob Melvin, Mariners
  4. Eric Wedge, Mariners

Mike Scioscia is one of the great tacticians in the game, and now has an abundance of talent again at his hand. His presence was crucial in bringing both Pujols and Wilson to LA. Ron Washington has taken the Rangers to back-to-back World Series, and only two historic performances prevented him from being a two-time champ as well.

Rookies/Prospects To Watch

  1. Yu Darvish (Pitcher, Rangers)
  2. Jesus Montero (DH, Mariners)
  3. Yoenis Cespedes (A’s from Cuba)
  4. Mike Trout (OF, Angels)*
  5. Jarrod Parker (RHP, A’s)

Darvish is the biggest thing to come from Japan since Dice-K, but is in his mid-20’s and throws in the mid-90’s as well. He’ll hold a major role on the Texas staff from day one. Montero, acquired from the Yankees this winter, has the most raw power of any rookie in the game. Cuban sensation Cespedes’ signing in Oakland was a surprise, and he will be counted on in a big way in Oakland. Trout will start in the minors, but is either #1 or #2 on nearly all Top 100 boards of prospects for good reason that will show before the summer is over.

The much rumored Cespedes will make his debut in a surprising place in Oakland and will have some immediate expectations as well.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Neftali Feliz, Rangers
  2. Brandon McCarthy, A’s
  3. Dustin Ackley, Mariners
  4. Derek Holland, Rangers
  5. Josh Reddick, A’s

Feliz has dominated the ninth since coming up in late 2009, and is now taking his intimidating stuff to the beginning of games. If he can build up the durability and repertoire to have a similar impact in the rotation, he will be among the AL’s best starters with a few years. McCarthy quietly had one of the best season’s of any pitcher in the game a year ago, and Reddick was the major piece that came back from Boston in exchange for Oakland’s All-Star closer Andrew Bailey, and for good reason.

Impact Additions

  1. Albert Pujols (Angels from Cardinals)
  2. CJ Wilson (Angels from Rangers)
  3. Joe Nathan (Rangers from Twins)
  4. Seth Smith (A’s from Rockies)
  5. Bartolo Colon (A’s from Yankees)

The Angels' huge winter spending spree landed them both the game's premier player in Pujols and their top opponents best arm in Wilson.

Pujols is the biggest signing for any team since both times A-Rod switched jerseys, and the Angels paid the price to land the game’s premier player. Paired with Wilson, they immediately changed the forecast in LA and make them the team to watch in a city long owned by the Dodgers. If Nathan can rediscover his pre-surgery form from Minnesota, the Rangers Feliz-less bullpen could be even better than before.

Finances

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. Mariners
  4. A’s

The well would seem dry after their $300 million winter, but the Angels still have cash on deck to make another move down there stretch if needed. This could prove to be the difference between them and a Rangers team that is holding back money to resign Hamilton, Young and Napoli soon.

PREDICTIONS

  1. Angels
  2. Rangers
  3. A’s
  4. Mariners

The script will finally flip back in 2012 to the way it was from 2007-2009, with the Angels climbing back to the top of the mountain. The Rangers will still be a force to be reckoned with, and won’t go down easy, but the addition of Pujols will make everyone around him in the lineup better, and the Angels weren’t pushovers before AP. On the hill, Wilson adds yet another matchup advantage to a rotation that already put the pressure down Texas a year ago. However, it’s a tale of two halves still, as the Mariners still are top heavy as it gets after Ichiro & Felix, and the A’s lineup is over reliant on a mixture of youth and not quite up to speed with LA/Texas-level veteran talents.

Due to this extreme first class/second class divide in the division, both Texas and LA could benefit the most from the expanded Wild Card spot. While the idea that it could let an extra AL East team in the mix is popular, the truth is that both of the superior teams in the West will have a lot of shots to feed on the bottom of the division. The Rangers boost two legit MVP candidates and as always, their pitching should find a way to be better than advertised. Down in LA, they have added the game’s best player and constructed a potential three All-Star rotation. When coupled with one of the game’s great strategists in Scioscia, the Angels will finish the push they started as a lesser team at the end of last summer and take the division for themselves, while the Rangers will still return to October via a Wild Card bid.

Come back next time for a look in nation’s heartland at the AL Central, where the defending champs have added some firepower via a familiar name. Yet still, they are far from out of the sites of one of the best gatherings of young talent in baseball. Until then follow me on Twitter, at @CheapSeatFan.

“They don’t call in March Madness for nothing…this shit crazy. Who’s next to bite the dust?” – @RichNUPE

Well sir, it’s funny that you ask, because a mass suicide damn near happened in just the first weekend of the Descent into Madness…

So weekend one of the NCAA’s is in the book, and boy if it wasn’t as advertised, I don’t know what is. March Madness jumped the shark like it never has before, and went well past bracket-based craziness and into straight up real-life, riot in the streets pandemonium. When you watch two, #2’s fall, and a 12 vs. 13 seed game in weekend number one, you can rest assured that there are brackets not only in trash cans, but the fiery kind that the guys from Rocky and New Jack City were singing around.

It hasn't quite gotten this bad yet...well, I can only speak for myself.

This is what you sign up for when you turn that bracket in: heartache, some excitement and even a few understandable upsets. But what happened this weekend was enough to cover the next three tournaments combined. And the results from the Descentors Twitter streams prove it….

So after the dust from the fallen monuments of both fan and bracket based hopes and dreams settled, and the first weekend’s leaderboard remained, how did it shake out? Here’s how it’s both standing now and forecasting out….

“Them fools had on Russell Athletics. Shit straight from Zayre.” – @IDOKICKS

“I need some Jameson” – @IDOKICKS

“I don’t know what to do with myself now” – @mikeb43

“I’m finally able to watch basketball again since Friday…*fights back tears*” – @simply_shani (it was Sunday)

It even got this bad…

“Leaving Twitter for a while. Sorry yall.” – @Blak2TheFuture

Hell, and he’s in sixth place still. The struggle is real out here.

As for those still chasing the grail and the free CHEAP SEATS, there’s a tie at #1 between myself and Ms. Rashida Thomas of Louisiana right now, with the meat of the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 to come. Both of us have 11 of our Sweet Sixteens still standing. We’ve both picked 35 of 48 games correct so far, and also have 162 points left to gain. However, there’s a lurker in the wings, with a still intact Final Four.

The proud owner of the “I Used a Bidet Bitches” bracket, Mike Brandon of Chicago, while in sixth place currently, is projecting to end up on top in the end, due to having Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State and North Carolina all alive and well still, in addition to having a crucial early exit from a nearly unanimous Final Four selection out of the Western Bracket.

He capitalized where others were deeply wounded…the game which we shall not speak of within the confines of this state. On my watch at least. See you next weekend, but before we go…if you ever needed proof that the Descent Into Madness can be had a rollercoaster straight into hell pace? Here goes…

“If Mizzou loses, I will be forced to give up sports. I’ll have all the evidence I need that I am cursed.” …

Followed the next morning by….

“Guys I’m ok. Spent the whole night drinking whiskey in my draws and singing “Rolling In The Deep”, but I’m ok.” – @DaRealMattOates

Damn, damn, damn. It gets real, but even at the darkest moments of the Descent Into Madness, there is a bright side that can be found if you look hard enough…

“I really don’t care about the NCAA tournament anymore……but is kU losing? Because that I always care about.” – @CHEL_seeyaa

Yes, yes indeed. There’s always that. However, before we go: The non-sports related Tweet of the Weekend:

“I just got caught dancing while eating a chicken wing….I am now reevaluating my life and the things I stand for.” – @CHEL_seeyaa

 

You are not alone there. Bring on weekend 2…at your own risk. In between catch me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. I’m coping, and trying to keep my grasp on reality…and first place.

You're not alone Brother. Not by near sight.

 

“1/1 so far with my bracket lol.” Good start.” – @Aundrea_Elise

“Brackets day 1. #Epic Fail” – @DClay83

 

And with that, Day one of the Madness is underway. It was everything you really expect for a first day of the Tourney to be, and nearly everything you’d never expect. It took #1 Syracuse  38 minutes to put away the #16 seeded UNC-Asheville (and even then took a bit of “striped intervention” from the zebras) and avoid making the absolute worst kind of history ever. A few bracket busters went head to head, and on the other end it last year’s small juggernaut VCA made their business as usual (“VCU is putting hands on Wichita State – @Skarface Nupe) . And there will definitely be a new champion this year, as 2011 Champs UConn got quick work made of them by Iowa State.

There was a lot at work, and in the DESCENT INTO MADNESS, the top of the board shows just how anything is possible….and the Twitter wires show that the seeds of the mania are already sprouting in our bracketeers heads with only half of round 2 done. Here’s just a few of the slides into the fever of the Madness from Day One.

“I inserted my bracket. Can you see me?” @MoDivine

“Shaka looks like a light-skinned Tupac.”@LakishaJackson

“Take the white dude off the court if he isn’t gonna hit shots.” @IDOKICKS

“Baylor gotta get the hell up outta here with these county jail roadside cleanup fits man…” – Me

 

Me and My Pop’s (Rampage) Tourney Convo of the Day (via IM at work)

Me: “Man, Montana? What the hell was that?”

Him: “I thought they had something in them to pull it off.”

Me: “They pulled something out on you it looks like. Now clean ya self up.”

 

Here’s the “Unintentional Sequence Tweet Off” of the day….

“UConn isn’t anywhere near out of that game. Second half is what counts.”@CheapSeatFan (Me)

Followed shortly by a far more appropriate comment….

Can I get a 20 ball for my Cyclones over UCONN right now!!! #ISU” – Followed by….

ISU had no business being a damn 8 seed!!!” – both courtesy of @Diggame

I think D. Frie won that point pretty clearly. Moving right along….

 

“I got the University of the United States winning the whole thing.”@SkarfaceNupe

I don’t know if that team made it onto my bracket, but B. Holmes pulled a lot magic out his various hats over the years, so making a squad magically appear in the tourney wouldn’t surprise me at all. Watch out for him later in the brackets for real, for real.

In a sign of the times tweet, “So Yahoo has locked me out of my account until tomorrow, so I can’t check my bracket….I got the paper version so I’ll survive.”@Kells713

I think she’ll like what she finds. But before we move on, this deserves special acknowledgment as well…

“Graphic design never fails. I picked my entire bracket based purely on logos and colors and I’ve only missed one game so far. #marchmadness”@FindingChizz

And actually, that’s true as hell. So with that, let’s take a quick glance at the leader board. As expected, there’s a 9-way at the top after Day One, with eight of those brackets all having the same maximum point potential still, so there’s so scrapping and separating to pull out this weekend still. At a certain point yesterday, the top 3 spots were all held down by the ladies that entered the tourney, which was a huge thrill to me. Now I won’t disrespect them by calling that the #16 over the #1 that UNC-Asheville couldn’t pull off yesterday, but oh man, I’d love to see the faces of the fellas if they get beat out in a few weeks in the same fashion.

And in that spirit, I bring you the DESCENT INTO MADNESS, Part Deux, tweet of the day. I poignant take on the happenings of Thursday…

“I will cherish this number 1 ranking in @CheapSeatFan’s bracket group because I don’t know if I’ll ever see it again lol.”@CHEL_seeyaa.

YOLO, young Ms. Drake, YOLO. That’s all I can really say there. You made it to the mountain top dammit.

But finally, the Tweet of the Day That Has Nothing To Do With Sports: “It is categorically impossible to take a candid picture of yourself. #petpeeve” – @FindingChizz

 

Enjoy Friday, and with Mizzou playing today I already know tomorrow morning’s edition will be major with the commentary game. For that and more from all of these “DESCENTORS”, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.