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BASN MLB Previews: 10 Burning Questions (Part One)
By Tony McClean
Updated: March 11, 2006
NEW HAVEN, Ct. — While the NBA is slowly nearing the home stretch and March Madness is upon us, it can only mean one thing — Opening Day can’t be that far away.
In Florida and Arizona, camps are open and cockeyed optimists are looking forward to the 2006 season. From Chicago to Tampa, New York to Anaheim (or is it Los Angeles?), many baseball fans not caught up in the steroid scandal are gearing up for the long haul.
Over the next two days, we’ll take a look at both the National and American Leagues and ask some of the many burning questions heading into the rest of Spring Training, the regular season, the playoffs, and finally the World Series.
Today, we look at the American League.
Re-signing Paul Konerko while trading for Jim Thome and Javier Vazquez is not a bad way of keeping your team in the hunt to repeat. Not mention having a full season of Bobby Jenks to go along with their big four of Buehrle, Garland, Contreras, and Garcia. Barring some serious “big hurts” (no pun intended), Ozzie and the South Siders will probably be a bit busy again this October.
2. The Indians gave Chicago one helluva scare in September. Are they ready to contend in the Central for the long haul?
Very quietly, Eric Wedge’s Tribe squad won 93 games last year. While many of the same suspects from last year (i.e., Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez) have returned, other key ingredients of that squad (Coco Crisp, Kevin Millwood, Scott Elarton) have either left or been traded. It appears that the Ozzie’s of Chi-Town aren’t going anywhere. Cleveland may have to settle for a wild-card or bust this season.
Knowing the quick impatience of Bosox fans, Crisp’s honeymoon period will probably be during the exhibition season at best. While he may not put up similar numbers to the “Idiot” he replaced, Crisp will not be a slouch. After being Cleveland’s fourth outfielder throughout the first half, Crisp was given a chance to play after the break and he made the most of it. He hit .318 after the All-Star Break including a sizzling .345 in September.
Many thought the Orioles would make some noise in 2005. With an improved starting staff to go along with a very underrated lineup, the pundits may have been a year too soon to jump on the Baltimore bandwagon. Adding righthander Kris Benson, catcher Ramon Hernandez, outfielder Corey Patterson, and utility man Kevin Millar and Jeff Conine should definitely put the O’s in contention. However, an inexperienced bullpen could be the great equalizer.
5. Now that he’s moved to the other side of the coast, will Milton Bradley behave himself in Oakland?
Playing for his third team in four season, Bradley has been relatively quiet this spring. One can only hope that the talented, but moody outfielder will let his bat do the talking. Bradley’s offensive versatility makes him a valuable commodity for an Oakland lineup that needs a jump start from of 2005. If Bradley puts up his regular numbers and Frank Thomas stays healthy, maybe just maybe, the A’s can make themselves a true player in the AL West.
After trying to play Jedi mind tricks with GM Brian Cashman (“I’ve got an extension”…..”No you don’t”……”Maybe I don’t”….), one would almost think that Gary is trying to grease the wheels en route to an exit from the Bronx. Trust me, don’t believe the hype. In between small visits to the DL, Sheffield will have another decent season for the Yankees. However because he’s starting to get up there in age, don’t be surprised if Cashman makes another deal down the road just for outfield insurance.
Once upon a time, the Blue Jays were back-to-back World Series champions (1992-93). Not took long after the 1994 strike, the team and its fans appeared to do the greatest Rip Van Winkle impersonation ever seen in sports. Fast forward a few years. Following an 80-82 season in 2005, Toronto was busy during the winter adding starter A.J. Burnett and closer B.J. Ryan to the pitching staff. The Jays also added the bats of 1B Lyle Overbay, 3B Troy Glaus, and the defense of C Bengie Molina. Lets just says that the AL East isn’t all about the Yankees and Red Sox and a few teams named Joe.
Well, ya gotta give ‘em credit for trying. A major overhaul in their starting rotation during off-season yielded AL ERA leader Kevin Millwood along with fellow lefthanders ex-Padre Adam Eaton and ex-Phillie Vincente Padilla. However, the pickings are slim at best after that, even with the underrated Francisco Cordero as the closer. If the Rangers were in the Central, their prospects would be a little better. But in the top-heavy West, they won’t be able to keep up with the pitching rich Angels and A’s.
There are many candidates: Frank Thomas in Oakland, Curt Schilling in Boston to name just a few. Here’s someone to take a look at. After a career year in 2004 (48 HRs, 121 RBIs, .388 BA), Adrian Beltre’s numbers took an slight dip (28 HRs, 80 RBIs, .290 BA) in making the transition from LA to Seattle. Now with a full season in the AL under his belt, look for him to return to the form that made him an MVP candidate not so long ago.
10: And the winners are??………..
East: Blue Jays
Central: White Sox
Wild Card: Yankees
Playoffs: White Sox over Jays, Yankees over Angels.
ALCS: White Sox over Yankees
Tommorrow: The National League.