Flags won't fly for Yanks or Bosox • Latino Sports

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Flags won’t fly for Yanks or Bosox

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Neither the New York Yankees nor the Boston Red Sox will win a thing this year.

Their opening game, fittingly scheduled for April Fool’s Day, is just a schedule quirk that wouldn’t mean squat if it happened at the opposite end of the season.

Both teams are smitten by advancing age, recurring injuries, and payrolls so top-heavy they make Dolly Parton seem small in comparison.

That being said, the corner divisions could be extremely competitive.

After raiding the rosters of the Miami Marlins and New York Mets, the Toronto Blue Jays could waltz off with the keys to the eastern slice of the AL pennant.

Adding Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera to a lineup anchored by Edwin Encarnacion (42 homers last year) and two-time home run king Jose Bautista means the Jays will be a joy for John Gibbons, returning after a four-year exile. R.A. Dickey’s knuckler will befuddle AL sluggers as he teams with Florida exiles Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to give Toronto a formidable front three. Even if the Jays are slow to find a closer, they should score far more runs than they allow.

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In Tampa Bay, innovative manager Joe Maddon hopes to parlay pitching prowess and a new up-the-middle alignment into a division title. Ex-Braves Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson provide good punch for middle infielders while fleet Desmond Jennings may ease the sting of losing B.J. Upton to free agency. Now that Evan Longoria is over his hamstring issues, he’ll lead the attack. Tampa Bay also owns the best starter (David Price) and best closer (Fernando Rodney) in the American League.

Now that the injury bug has flown from Boston to New York, the Red Sox look ready to rebound from their last-place finish of last season. Jacoby Ellsbury, Will Middlebrooks, and DH David Ortiz were all hobbled last summer, along with veteran starter John Lackey. Ortiz and Stephen Drew had minor issues this spring but should be ready soon, giving new manager John Farrell a strong veteran base.

Adding Shane Victorino’s speed and the bats of Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes will help a lineup led by Dustin Pedroia. Also new this year is durable starter Ryan Dempster, who joins Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, and comeback candidate Jon Lester in a rotation likely to be better than last year’s. New closer Joel Hanrahan, plucked from Pittsburgh via free agency, provides late-inning reliability.

Speaking of closing, Baltimore’s Jim Johnson managed a career-best 51 saves last summer because his teammates posted a record .763 winning percentage in one-run games (29-9). No way that happens again.

In fact, manager Buck Showalter could be hard-pressed to find starting pitching after Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, and retread righthander Jair Jurrjens, the erstwhile Atlanta ace. Hitting isn’t an issue on a team with two 30-homer men (Adam Jones and Chris Davis) and three others likely to top 20 (Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Nick Markakis). This team, one game from first last year, won’t be nearly as close again.

Neither will be the once-proud Yankees, bedeviled by injuries even before the season started. Certain to be sidelined for awhile are Alex Rodriguez (hip surgery), Mark Teixeira (wrist), Curtis Granderson (forearm), and Derek Jeter (ankle). With five players pushing 40 or beyond and the vital catching position practically vacant, this is a team that headed south from spring training instead of north. Ancient Mariano Rivera, back after a critical ACL tear, won’t have as many games to save — even with CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Hiroki Kuroda in front of him.

The Tigers are Back, in first place where most believe they should be in the AL Central. Photo by Lisa Luevanos

The Tigers are Back, in first place where most believe they should be in the AL Central. Photo by Lisa Luevanos

The Detroit Tigers swept the Yankees in the 2012 ALCS, then suddenly ran out of has just in time for the San Francisco Giants to stomp on them. Manager Jim Leyland knows he won’t get another Triple Crown season from Miguel Cabrera but he could get another Cy Young trophy from Justin Verlander. Cabrera and Prince Fielder form the best 3-4 lineup anchors outside of Los Angeles and the return of injured DH Victor Martinez (knee) adds to a solid attack. Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Anibal Sanchez back Verlander but the team opens without a closer.

If Cleveland gets any pitching at all, that could be a problem. The Indians added fleet leadoff man Michael Bourn, switch-hitting Yankee refugee Nick Swisher, and slugger Mark Reynolds during the winter, nullifying last year’s futile approach. Manager Terry Francona, a two-time World Champion in Boston, hopes Ubaldo Jiminez, Justin Masterson, and Brett Myers provide enough pitching to survive a season of slugfests. Closer Chris Perez (39 saves) could be overworked.

Unlike the Indians, the Kansas City Royals swapped for starting pitching, adding James Shields, Ervin Santana, and Wade Davis over the winter. The club is counting on Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and DH of the Year Billy Butler to buttress an offense loaded with potential. A Jeff Francoeur comeback would help.

Pitching plus power should help Chicago compete. Four Sox (Alex Rios, Dayan Viciedo, Paul Konerko, and Adam Dunn) return after hitting at least 25 homers apiece last year while two pitchers (Chris Sale and Gavin Floyd) won a dozen or more. The Sox will miss slugging catcher A.J. Pierzynski and third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who signed with Texas and the Yankees, respectively.

If anything seems certain in the Central, it’s the status of the Minnesota Twins. Desperate for both prospects and pitchers, Ron Gardenhire’s club sent two centerfielders (Ben Revere, Denard Span) across league lines in trades. The team still has Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Trevor Plouffe, and Josh Willingham but little pitching behind 12-game winners Scott Diamond and Kevin Correia. Maybe Mike Pelfrey can find his former Mets form. It could only help.

The only American League team worse than Minnesota is the newly-arrived Houston Astros, tossed into the AL West maelstrom when Major League Baseball decided each league and each division needed the same number of teams (15).

Houston, stripped bare by new owner Jim Crane, is so bad that it could even challenge the ignominious first year of the expansion New York Mets, who lost 120 games in 1962. Alex Rodriguez is paid more than the entire 25-man Astros roster but is likely to accomplish more sitting on the bench.

The ‘stros don’t have a closer or a returning starter with a winning record. None of their likely regulars hit .300 and cracked the 20-homer plateau although Jose Altuve showed promise with a .290 mark and 33 stolen bases. It’s a good thing Minute Maid Park has a dome: it’s going to be a long, hot summer.

Elsewhere in Texas, the outlook is considerably brighter. Even without free agent deserted Josh Hamilton, the Rangers and ready to challenge Oakland for the AL West crown. Solid starters Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, and Derek Holland get strong support from closer Joe Nathan and heavy hitters Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, and A.J. Pierzynski. Veteran Lance Berkman, healthy again, is a welcome addition as the designated hitter.

Seattle, stymied by a popgun offense last summer, added Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse in separate trades and expects experience to hoist the numbers of Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak, and Michael Saunders. The rotation and bullpen have aces in Felix Hernandez, now armed with a long-term contract, and Tom Wilhelmsen, returning after saving 29 games for a sad-sack team.

Like Tampa Bay, Oakland gets maximum mileage from a minimal payroll. The team is especially proud of a pitching staff led by lefties Brett Anderson and Jarrod Parker but Tom Milone and veteran Bartolo Colon also won in double digits. Grant Balfour, formerly with the Rays, ranks as the top closer.

Best of the batters in Oakland livery are Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes, and Josh Reddick, all of whom topped 20 homers last summer. The great unknowns are rookie shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, imported from Japan, and double-play partner Scott Sizemore, sidelined by injury in 2012.

Albert Pujols Is Caught Trying To Steal Third Base In The Six Inning.Photo By Frank Hyatt.com

Albert Pujols Is Caught Trying To Steal Third Base In The Six Inning.Photo By Frank Hyatt.com

The Best of the West in 2013 could be the Los Angeles Angels, who stole Josh Hamilton from Texas in a surprise free agent signing. That gives the Halos a quartet of 30-homer men (Hamilton, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo) and turns the team into an offensive juggernaut. That’s important because the pitching pales after 20-game winner Jered Weaver and lefties C.J. Wilson and Jason Vargas. NL refugees Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton had worse years in 2012 than Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

 

On the eve of the first pitch, here’s how the final standings should look:

AL East:

1. Toronto

2. Tampa Bay*

3. Boston

4. Baltimore

5. New York

AL Central:

1. Detroit

2. Cleveland

3. Chicago

4. Kansas City

5. Minnesota

AL West:

1. Los Angeles

2. Texas*

3. Oakland

4. Seattle

5. Houston

(*) wild cards

Wild-card winner: Texas over Tampa Bay

AL Division Series: Toronto over Texas, Los Angeles over Detroit

AL Championship Series: Toronto over Los Angeles

World Series: Atlanta (NL) over Toronto (AL)

Most Valuable Player: Jose Reyes, Toronto

Cy Young Award: Felix Hernandez, Seattle

Rookie of the Year: Aaron Hicks, Minnesota

Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Cleveland

Comeback of the Year: Jeff Francoeur, Kansas City

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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