My final installment … picks for the central divisions of the AL and NL.
AL Central first.
- Chicago White Sox: In a division that is probably the weakest in baseball, and 85-win season could spell first place. The ChiSox don’t have much going for them beyond Bartolo Colon, Mark Buehrle and Magglio Ordonez, but they won 81 games last year without Colon and in an unbalanced-schedule world, the AL Central is really where you want to play most of your games if you have any level of talent at all.
- Minnesota Twins: The Twins did better than expected last year, but that doesn’t mean they’ll keep it up this year. I’m not totally writing them off as potential contenders, but I’m sure sure they have the depth of talent necessary to repeat a division crown.
- Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City : Somebody has to finish last in this division, and it’s a toss up as to which of the “Moe, Larry, and Curly” of the baseball world take the unHonors. I don’t care enough to even venture a guess. One sure bet — one of these three teams will wind up with the worst record in baseball.
And now for the NL Central, or the polar opposite of the AL Central.
- St. Louis Cardinals : The Cards must have really liked Woody Williams. They’ve suddenly developed a fondness for ex-Padres pitchers. They’ve added to their roster Joey Hamilton, Dustin Hermanson and Brett Tomko. But I’m not holding that against them, especially since the grand-dad of ex-Padres pitchers putting on Cardinal red, Andy Benes, has retired, finally. Still, the Cards field a potent offense and a stellar pitching staff (Tomko should make a significant contribution). As much as I would rather see the Reds or the Astros take the divisin crown, the Cards look unstoppable.
- Cincinnati Reds: Good pitching is supposed to beat good hitting, so I should probably be picking Houston number 2, but pitching is far more unpredictable than hitting, and Houston’s pitchers are mighty young (if they were old, like Arizona, I’d hold that against them, too). I just love the offense the Reds and throw at you: Austin Kearns, Ken Griffey Jr., Sean Casey, Adam Dunn, Randell Simon and Aaron Boone (though I’m not clear yet on how both Casey and Simon are going to fit into the lineup). These guys should be able to put some runs on the board.
- Chicago Cubs: The safe pick is the Cubs in second or third. The betting man would pick them to win the NL crown. With Dusty Baker at the helm, a still potent Sammy Sosa at the bat, along with the likes of Moises Alou, Corey Patterson, Hee Seop Choi, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Jon Lieber and Jesus Sanchez on the roster, the Cubs have a chance to do some real damage. Certainly, this team is trending upwards. It’s the most hopeful roster the Cubs have had in my lifetime. If the Cubs were in the NL West or AL Central, I would be picking them for first.
- Houston Astros : If their pitching holds up, they challenge for first. The Astros have a heck of an offense in a hitters park, but a hitters park is not good for young pitching, and 2002 not withstanding, that’s a lot of strain on young arms. I’m just not going to be the farm on young pitchers who are asked to pitch half their games in a hitters ballpark. If I’m wrong, the Astros could win 90 to 100 games. If my skepticism is on target, then 80 to 90 loses is not out of the question.
- Milwaukee Brewers: Can the Brewers even be adequately described as a “rebuilding team.” Memo to Selig: Can you say, “contraction.”