By Lloyd Jones
While we're putting our shovels and snowblowers through an extra month of use, the boys of summer have returned. Spring training is over, baseball is back and these games all count.
"There are only two seasons — winter and baseball." — Bill Veeck.
With the opening crack of the bat, that means it's time for some fearless predictions.
Starting with the local nine, Boston will win the AL East.
Sure, the Sox are going to miss David Ortiz in the middle of the lineup, but this team is going to score runs in bunches. Plus, the pitching will be better with the addition of Chris Sale. Sale is going to be must watch like those days when Pedro took to the hill. He has a confident swagger about him on the mound and seems a sure-bet to win 20 games this season.
If David Price can return in mid-May and be David Price, the Sox can run away with the division. Boston also will get a helping hand, probably in June, by the return of sensational reliever Carson Smith. Pair him with Tyler Thornburg and that's two strong arms in front of closer Craig Kimbrel. The bullpen can be a difference-maker for the first time in a long time.
With Ortiz not walking through the dugout anytime soon, the Sox are still one of the best offenses in the game. The outfield of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley and Rookie of the Year frontrunner Andrew Benintendi are going to be fun to watch. Also, look for Hanley Ramirez to have another monster year as he moves into more of a leadership role. Pablo Sandoval and Mitch Moreland will hit, too.
"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." — Rogers Hornsby.
The Toronto Blue Jays will be the team chasing Boston in the standings. The Jays have strong pitching staff. Aaron Sanchez should take another step towards elite starters this summer.
The New York Yankees have a batch of veterans and young guns, but no real standout players in their prime. The youngsters (Greg Bird, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez) need to play a little above their heads to contend.
Tampa Bay and Baltimore are either hitting thin or pitching thin. Can't see either breaking the 80 win total.
"Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal." — George Will.
In the AL Central, if Cleveland doesn't win the division, things will have gone horribly array in the mistake by the lake. The Tribe are a popular choice to head back to the World Series. They've added a bopper to their lineup in Edwin Encarnacion, and figure to have a healthy return in Michael Brantley, who missed pretty-much all of last season after finishing third in the MVP voting in 2015. Throw in healthy starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, plus the best manger in baseball in Terry Franconia, and what's not to like?
Detroit needs its veterans to stay healthy in order to stay within sniffing distance of the playoffs.
Kansas City isn't getting a lot of love, and the Royals just might surprise some people.
The Twins and White Sox have some young talent, but are a few years away from making any noise in the division.
"There ain't much to being a ballplayer, if you're a ballplayer." — Honus Wagner
The AL West should be fun to follow this summer. The Astros, Rangers and Mariners all look like potential playoff teams. Seattle is the pick here. The offseason additions of Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger in the Tajuan Walker trade gives them the nod. Just a hunch, but King Felix (Hernandez) will be be very good again, and James Paxton stays healthy to give the Mariners a strong one-two punch.
The Astros are going to score runs and look like a playoff team. Same is true for the Rangers.
The Angels and Athletics have way too many holes to fill before contending.
"Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets." — Yogi Berra.
In the NL East, the Mets could have the best rotation in baseball. If Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler live up to there pre-injury hype, New York is going to be tough to beat, but the Nationals are gong to beat them. Bryce Harper wins the MVP and Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer go one-two in the Cy Young voting.
The Miami Marlins drawing rooting interest in these parts because of Jeff Locke. Jeff is rehabbing from bicep tendinitis. Bold pick, Jeff leads the Marlins in wins this season even starting a few weeks behind the rest of the fish.
Braves and Phillies are better than last year's records, but the division is too tough for them to make any noise.
"Bob Gibson is the luckiest pitcher I ever saw. He always pitches when the other team doesn't score any runs." — Tim McCarver.
The Chicago Cubs will win the NL Central. The team is loaded with talent and should be better than last year.
St. Louis is a great baseball town, but the loss of phenom Alex Reyes hurts the rotation.
Pirates will threaten for a Wild Card berth while Milwaukee and Cincinnati fans will have to wait until next year.
"I'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball." — Pete Rose.
The LA Dodgers are too good for the rest of the NL West. When your team can't win even after your ace, Madison Bumgarner belts two home runs on Opening Day, that tells you something.
Colorado could surprise in this division if it gets any sort of pitching. It will be no surprise that the Diamondbacks and Padres are not in playoff contention.
"Baseball just a came as simple as a ball and bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. A sport, a business and sometimes almost even a religion." — Ernie Harwell.
Red Sox win the AL. Nationals win the NL.
"When you start the game, they don't say 'Work ball!' They say 'Play ball!'" — Willie Stargell.
Boston wins the World Series.
- Category: Sports Columns