It’s been a long winter of micro-managing the minutiae of the Tigers roster – 5th starter, left field, bullpen pecking order, bench roles. It’s safe to say, 29 other teams would gladly trade their dilemmas for Detroit’s at this point. In less than 24 hours, spikes will be clacking across the concrete in Lakeland, auguring the arrival of the defending American League champions and presumed contender to repeat. Every beat, blogger and pundit this side of Dennis Green has crowned the Tigers, at least as Central Division champs. But what of those other 29 – who lurks as playoff obstacle, or looms as World Series combatant? Let’s go division-by-division with some vaticination likely to go awry.
AL CENTRAL: In what order will the also-rans run? The Royals could be pesky, with their young lineup a year older and James Shields atop the rotation. The Tribe appears to be trying to improve, though I am glad to see Shin-Soo Choo go to the NL. The Twins are in transition, and I sense the Sox’ strategy of essentially standing pat will leave them further than 3 games back this year.
1. TIGERS 2. Cleveland 3. Kansas City 4. Minnesota 5. Chicago
AL EAST: You can make a case to list any of these teams to be first or last. Toronto is a trendy pick, with the additions of R.A. Dickey, Melky Cabrera, Maicer Izturis, and most of the Miami Marlins. The Orioles were 2012′s surprise team, the Tampa Bay Rays used smoke and mirrors as usual to cobble together 90 wins; while the Bosox sunk due to age, injury and nobody’s Valentine, the Yankees defied age and injury to win the division. The Jays talent infusion is too difficult to ignore, the Rays come up a bit short, again; the O’s are good but won’t win all those one-run games; and all 3 will chuckle as ESPN’s home-teams and their bloated payrolls rest on the bottom.
1. Toronto 2. Tampa 3. Baltimore 4. New York 5. Boston
AL WEST: The addition of the Astros will likely give the division winner an inside shot at home-field advantage. The Mariners added some bats, but the Angels added Josh Hamilton. Oakland has an excellent pitching staff and that Cespedes guy is the real deal. Texas is still talented, but will their October swoon haunt them? Perhaps they can exact revenge on the A’s in the Play-In game. Will the Astros win a game?
1. California 2. Oakland (Wild Card) 3. Texas (Wild Card) 4. Seattle 5. Houston
NL EAST: The Nats and their strong starting staff look to repeat, with presumably a full season of Stephen Strasburg. Atlanta has the Upton brothers but is sans-Chipper; the Phillies went 44-31 in the second half last year and hope to make one more run with an aging roster. The Mets and Marlins both appear meaningless at this point.
1. Washington 2. Atlanta 3. Philadelphia 4. New York 5. Miami
NL CENTRAL: The Reds once again emerge as cream of the crop, although the Cardinals always manage to make it interesting. The Pirates may finally make it to 82 wins, and the Brewers will probably be in the same ballpark. Cubs fans have heard this before – wait ’til next year.
1. Cincinnati 2. St. Louis 3. Pittsburgh 4. Milwaukee 5. Chicago
NL WEST: LA, like the Bluejays, took the NBA-player-in-a-strip-joint approach to fiscal responsibility. Will their cast of All-Stars, with Kershaw and Grienke as a one-two punch, be enough to overtake the World Champion Giants? Over in Arizona, Kirk Gibson is going the route of the ’88 Dodgers, trying to mold a cast of no-stars into a winning ballclub. The Padres and Rockies seem destined to battle it out for the basement once again.
1. Los Angeles 2. San Francisco (Wild Card) 3. Arizona (Wild Card) 4. San Diego 5. Colorado
POSTSEASON: PLAY-IN GAMES – Pitching trumps hitting once again in Oakland, as the A’s dump the powerful Rangers. Gibby’s grinders fall short and the champs survive to defend their crown.
ALDS: Angels triumph over the Bluejays in 4, while the Tigers rematch with Oakland is a less-stressful 4 game victory.
NLDS: Even with Strasburg, the Nationals can’t top the Giants in Game 5. Meanwhile, the best team Magic can buy dispatches Dusty’s Reds in a sweep.
ALCS: Verlander, game 7, ’nuff said.
NLCS: Will the Tigers get an opportunity to avenge the 2012 Series sweep? It’s time for two classic franchises to meet with a title on the line – Dodgers punch out San Fran in six.
WORLD SERIES: Once you get there the records go out the window, and momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher. I think the depth of Detroit’s starting staff shows, the will of Victor Martinez is integral, and Old Man Ilitch gets his trophy.
Feel free to clip and save these predictions – they may prove insightful, or a source of comic relief, come October.