By David Mullen
The long 162-game baseball season is about to begin after a short baseball season of 60 games in 2020. In comparing last year to the upcoming season, all bets are off.
Unless you are high on the Texas Rangers going to the World Series this season. Optimistic Rangers fans can head to Vegas and find “the odds of Texas” are upon them. Think the Rangers will make it to the World Series? Betting $100 will get you $20,000.
Instead of “All hat. No cattle,” this Texas bet looks like “No bat. All prattle.” The Rangers are built to lose in the AL West this season.
Their hitting is suspect, but luckily their pitching is questionable. Those are the bitter facts.
It is not all hopeless for Rangers fans, as they build for the future. They will play before a full house in a beautiful new stadium. Joey Gallo can be impressive, Isiah Kiner-Falefa finally will have a full season to show off his talent, and budding cruiserweight Rougned Odor can pack a punch.
The Rangers are the oldest of the last three AL franchises — with the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners — never to win a World Series. The Texas drought continues.
Hoping to steal back the AL West crown from the Oakland A’s, the Houston Astros are merging veteran talent with young stars, but lost leader George Springer in the off-season.
They still have Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley, and youngsters Steven Souza Jr., Myles Straw and Yordan Alvarez. They are formidable, but their starting pitching scares no team.
Neither does the A’s staff, on paper. But no team plays on paper. The A’s have the best starters in the division with unheralded Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea and Jesús Luzardo.
Matt Chapman and Matt Olson are Gold Glove corners, and outfielder Ramón Laureano will win one soon. The A’s look to make up for the departures of shortstop Marcus Semien and reliever Liam Hendriks with former Ranger Elvis Andres and closer Trevor Rosenthal. The A’s are really impressive, just not on paper.
Every year, the Los Angeles Angels are picked to have a great year because they have All-World player Mike Trout. But the Angles brass always forget about one thing. Pitching wins, and the Angels can’t pitch. Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney are very good. But past those two, the struggles will continue in Anaheim.
The Mariners, like the Rangers, are rebuilding. They have Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis and a number of young prospects. But the Mariners will find a lot of red numbers before they find a red sky.
Most major TV Networks, Sports Illustrated and the MLB Network are located in New York. ESPN is located in Connecticut. No wonder the New York Yankees are anointed every year to be the team to beat. And despite the short memories of the Eastern pundits, the Yankees do get beat. Every year.
The last time the Yankees were in the World Series, “Avatar” was number one at the box office. Yet fans are still animated about the Yankees’ chance to win the AL in 2021.
Pitchers Gerrit Cole, Aroldis Chapman (aging), Zack Britton (injured), Corey Kluber (coming off injury) and Luis Severino (injured) and hitters Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton (often injured), DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Hicks all make more than $10 million per year. Blinded by the bats, Yankees fans never consider they have little pitching past Cole.
With a payroll around $66 million, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Rodney Dangerfield of baseball, win as a team. They won the AL in 2020 and took the eventual champion Dodgers to six games in the championship. They tied a major league record with 12 different players recording a save, and that was in a 60-game season.
The Rays get no respect, but win with a no name team in a market as flashy as Staten Island. The Yankees could learn from the Rays.
Without a home as Canada enforces strong COVID-19 protocols, the Toronto Blue Jays will begin their home schedule in Dunedin, Fla., but are ready to make the division a three-team race. Banking on the sons of former major leaguers in Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio, and joined by Springer and Semien, a healthy Jays team could win the AL East, but a Wild Card spot is more likely.
The Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles continue to look to the future. The Red Sox spent to be competitive and pacify, at least for a month, their rabid fan base. The O’s realize the future is ahead.
Chicago is the real deal, and darned if the White Sox are ready for a long run. They signed closer Liam Hendriks. They have young stars Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert led by veteran manager Tony LaRussa.
This could be baseball’s best story. The Minnesota Twins rely on veterans Jorge Polanco, Josh Donaldson and Miguel Sano, and ex-Ranger Nelson Cruz. Starter Kenta Maeda is solid and will rely on a bullpen by committee.
The Cleveland Indians traded shortstop Francisco Lindor to the other NY team (Mets), and Brad Hand left for Washington.
Shane Bieber and Jose Ramirez remain, but team will struggle after being highly competitive. The Detroit Tigers continue on a search for talent. The Kansas City Royals may end up best of the three teams, resigning Greg Holland to close games.
I see the Atlanta Braves knocking off the Dodgers for the National League crown. I think that the White Sox will win the AL, with tough competition from Tampa Bay, Toronto, Oakland and Houston. For Yankees fans, it will be another year of disappointment. But fear not, Pinstripe faithful. The Yankees will be picked to win it all again next season.