2016 MLB: AL Central Rules

If they pitch, the division will be holding on to the Tigers' tail.
Sorry East Coast baseball fans, but this is MLB’s strongest division. The Royals are the defending World Series champions and they’ll have trouble winning their division, let alone repeat as champs. On the flip side, most analysts (not me) predict the Twins to finish last in the division, but they’re good enough to win the AL East or West.

I’m going out on a limb and picking the Tigers to win the Central, but they could finish last—that’s how good this division is. My dark horse is Cleveland.

Predicted order of finish: Tigers, Royals, Indians, Twins, White Sox.

Welcome to the age of J. D. Martinez, MLB’s next superstar. He joins a Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, newly acquired Justin Upton, and Miggy Cabrera in a lineup that can bash with anyone, including Toronto. And I don’t give a damn how many Mike Trout man-love charts you show me, Miggy is the best hitter in baseball—period. If the Detroit Tigers get decent pitching, they will hard to beat. Therein lies the Tigers’ tale. Will Justin Verlander regain his mojo, or is he done? Can Jordan Zimmerman pitch in the AL? What gives with the hot/cold Anibal Sanchez? Did the Yankees fleece the cats on Shane Green and Justin Wilson? Francisco Rodriquez is a heart attack closer. The Tigers will either roar or turn into domestic tabbies.

The Kansas City Royals look weaker on paper, though losing Cueto was no big deal; he didn’t help much anyhow. Zobrist strikes me as the bigger loss. Their lineup doesn’t dazzle; it simply bleeds you like a thousand paper cuts. The only potential weak link 1 through 9 is untested right-fielder Paul Orlando; by now everyone knows what Cain, Hosmer, Gordon, Morales, Perez, Moustakas, et. al. can do. (Although things could go wrong if the Moustakas of 2014 shows up instead of the stud from 2015.) Starting pitching could be the Achilles’ heel if either Volquez or Ventura slip, as the remainder—Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, and Kris Medlen—are reclamation projects. They only need to take a lead into the sixth and KC’s magnificent bullpen, anchored by Wade Davis, will deliver the W, but getting there may be a challenge.

Think the Boston Red Sox would have been so bad the past few years if Terry Francona was still there instead of at the helm of the Cleveland Indians? My instincts say the Tribe is still a few years from planting a pennant atop the teepee and financial woes could lead to a fire sale, but this is no longer a team to be taken lightly. They have some topnotch hitters—Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Mike Napoli, Francisco Lindor—and a few others (Chisenhall, Gomes, Davis)  who ought to be better than their slash lines. A lot of teams would take a 1-3 staff of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar. If they get decent performances from Josh Timlin and Cody Anderson, the Tribe is going to ambush a lot of teams picked to finish above them.

The Minnesota Twins aren’t patsies anymore either! They still have Joe Mauer, a great pure hitter, and they’ve been adding youth—Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Trevor Plouffe, Brian Dozier—who thus far have been relegated to on-the-job-training. When (not if) they figure it out, the Twins will be dangerous. No one knows what Korean import Byung Ho Park will bring to his namesake, but if he’s 70% of what’s advertised, it’s a good signing. Pitching is the problem, once one gets past Phil Hughes, who found his stride in the Twin Cities. I think we can safely call Ervin Santana a tantalizing fraud by now, and then it’s a matter of how fast Kyle Gibson develops and whether Tommy Milone and Ricky Nolasco can contribute. The Twins could also use a closer upgrade over Glen Perkins. The Twins mantra: Not enough to win, but good enough to compete. {Note: Since I wrote this Buxton went on the DL & the Twins have had the worst start in MLB, but I still think they will be better.}

A few folks see the Chicago White Sox as playoff bound. Not me. The ChiSox have the wonderful Jose Abreu, who might win the home run crown, and Chris Sale, always a Cy Young threat. There are too many question marks after them. Todd Frazier was a good pickup, but he won’t hit 35 homers against AL pitching and especially not in his new home stadium. The rest is guys who are in decline (Melky Cabrera, Jimmy Rollins, Alix Avila) or simply never were all that good (Brett Lawrie, Austin Jackson, Adam Eaton). After Sale, it’s Quintana, Latos, and Danks, which rhymes with tanks, and it’s goodbye on the South Side unless all four pitch like Cy.  


Why You Should Root for Trump: NY Primary Day Special

Before you trash Trump, check out Ted Cruz! 

A lot of liberals are feeling smug that the Donald Trump Express seems to be experiencing mechanical difficulties. I'm tempted to join the cheerful chorus, but these are not normal times. Not when Trump's misfortunes raise the specter of Ted Cruz. Make no mistake—Donald Trump is a crude, arrogant boor and there are invertebrates more qualified to be president than he. Still, he's just an embarrassment; Ted Cruz is actively dangerous.

Historians such as myself often consider analogies most people don't and the current GOP race reminds me the election of 1800. Huh? Let's take a look. That now-archaic institution called the Electoral College settled all early elections. Because voting was restricted to propertied white males, almost nobody voted—just 66,000 back in 1800—and that was the point. The Founders distrusted the masses and the Electoral College existed to make sure that men of "substance and bearing" (their term) could undo a "mistake" by the voters. The real action took place in small caucuses of Federalist leaders who were also electors. This select group debated who the president should be and the second-most popular candidate was VP. They never envisioned an election in which a rival political party would contest power and win, but that's exactly what happened in 1800 when Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans (today's Democrats) defeated incumbent President John Adams.

The Federalists feared Jefferson, whose radical agrarianism and take on the French Revolution was the opposite of theirs, and they weren't even sure a transfer of power could take place without a violent upheaval. More vexing still was the fact that there was nothing in the Constitution about political parties or allowing a presidential candidate to designate a VP. (That doesn't happen until the 12th Amendment was ratified in 1804.) All knew that Jefferson was the presidential candidate and that his running mate, Aaron Burr, was meant to be Vice President, but each received the same number of Electoral College votes. If you wonder why Burr didn't just step aside, you know nothing about the ambitious and amoral Aaron Burr! It took 36 Electoral College votes to determine that Jefferson would be the third president, and it hinged on a single changed vote: that of Alexander Hamilton.

Was it because Hamilton put duty above personal views? Not quite. He disliked Jefferson, but deemed him "by far not so dangerous a man" as Burr. He went on to opine that Jefferson was merely a "foolish, abstract terrorist," but that Burr was the real deal. As you probably know, in 1804 Burr killed Hamilton in an illegal duel, thereby robbing the country of perhaps its greatest mind of the day, and proving Hamilton's view that Burr was indeed a "dangerous man."

How does this apply today when voters can decide? Donald Trump is a freak show, but he's by far the lesser of two evils compared to Ted Cruz. He craves attention and says outrageous things, but he's probably not serious about half of them. Ted Cruz is. He's pro-gun and anti-everything else liberals hold sacred. He's not just anti-choice, he's part of the insert IUD cameras into the uteruses of abortion-seekers crowd.  He wants to dismantle Obamacare, Affirmative Action, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and all laws forbidding discrimination against gays and lesbians. He wants the Keystone pipeline, perpetual war against foreign enemies, harsher drug laws, and a reworking of the legal code that would be an Old Testament version of Sharia law. He believes in Creationism, insists climate change isn't happening, that immigrants should be banned, that the US military should be unleashed around the globe, and that women should remain helpmeets to men. Consider: in a Senate full of nasty sons-of-bitches, even they hate his guts. If this man becomes POTUS, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaiden's Tale will seem like current events.

Here's where it gets scarier—it could happen. The Democrats are hurtling toward disaster (What? Again?) with Hillary Clinton destined to be its standard bearer. It doesn't matter whether you think her opponents are sexist or misguided; there are tens of millions of voters who despise her and think anyone else is preferable. This includes millions of Sanders' supporters—especially young ones–who will stay at home on Election Day if Hillary gets the nomination. Save your admonishments because it's going to happen.

If Trump doesn't get the nomination, he is likely to bolt the GOP and run as an independent. If that happens, I don't see any candidate getting the magical 270 electorals needed to win. If you think the Election of 2000 was bad, in 2016 it's entirely possible the candidate with the third most votes will be POTUS. Call it a reverse 1800 scenario. In a three-way race, Clinton will win the popular vote but if she is short of 270 in the Electoral College, by what magical thinking does the GOP-controlled House of Representatives give her the presidency? Or second-place finisher Donald Trump? Hello President Cruz (or a dark horse designate for whom no one voted—Paul Ryan? Jeb Bush? Mitch McConnell?)

Hillary Clinton is a terrible campaigner and, yes, I'm among the millions who neither like nor trust her, but if she's your candidate you better root like hell for The Donald to wrap up the GOP nomination. In a two-way race Clinton has a small chance of beating Trump, but in the next-to-worst-case scenario we'd end up with a foolish abstract terrorist instead of a real one.


2016 MLB: AL West a Two-Texas Race

Fans of that big NFL joke called “parity” ought to love the American League this year. There is no clear cut front runner in any division. Because I must pick someone, I’ll go with the Houston Astros to win the West, but I do with little conviction.

Predicted Order: Astros, Rangers, Angels, Mariners, A’s

If the Rangers aren't Healthy,the 'Stros to Slide In
Health is the number one reason I favor the Houston Astros. If Doug Fister returns to form, the Astros’ staff of Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, and Fister is a formidable 1-3, and McCullers and Feldman aren’t bad as 4-5. The lineup is a bit suspect, especially when not playing in their home bandbox, but Jose Altuve has emerged as the AL’s best second baseman and Gattis, Rasmus, and Valbuena have their moments.

If Yu Darvish really is healthy—and it’s questionable—then my pick shifts to the Texas Rangers who follow with Cole Hamels, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, and Martin Perez to make up an even stronger rotation. Many think Perez is about to bust loose, so I’d not be shocked to see the Rangers repeat. They certainly have a far stronger lineup: Fielder, Beltre, Moreland, and Choo. Ian Desmond is a nice pickup, but Elvis Andrus needs to find himself. Watch out for second sacker Roughned Odor. I’m not wild about Tolleson as a closer and I’m puzzled why Josh Hamilton is still allowed on the field, but I’m sure he’ll implode.

The Los Angeles Angels have bad pitching and it got worse with the injury to Jered Weaver. Garrett Richards is good, but he’s no ace and C. J. Wilson can’t find his groove. The best hope lies in Andrew Heaney, who looks like he’s ready to impress. Daniel Nava starts in left and that’s not a good thing. Nice pick up at short with Andrelton Simmons, but I’m less sold on Yunel Escobar at third. Albert Pujols needs to rebound, or things will go south fast for the Angels. Of course, the thing we know for certain is that this team could go 1-161 and SABR pinheads would insist that Mike Trout should be MVP. He might be the best everyday player in baseball, but he doesn't make a flawed team better.

Many prognosticators pick the Seattle Mariners to leapfrog the Angels and it’s not out of the question. That still doesn’t make the Mariners a good team, though. Sure Felix Hernandez is a BMW, but he’s the pitching analog to Trout; the M’s win their division only if they figure out how King Felix can pitch every day. I like Iwakuma as a number 2, but then who? Wade Miley? Ugh! Taijuan Walker has to live up to his hype for Seattle to do much. They will, however, hit—Nelson Cruz, Adam Lind, and Kyle Seager will see to that and they’ve added speed in Aoki and Leonys Martin—if they can get on base. I don’t care what he says publicly, Robbie Cano is lost in Seattle and I think his glory years are behind him.  

I’ll just say it: Billy Beane is not a genius, Oakland is a garbage heap of a city, the ballpark is the worst in baseball, and virtually everything about the Oakland A’s not named Sonny Gray, Stephen Vogt, or Josh Reddick will stink. (Okay, maybe Khris Davis gets better.) You don’t build a pitching staff with Red Sox retreads and the A’s have two: Felix Doubront and Rich Hill. Sean Doolittle should take up veterinary science, not try to save games. In a division with less flawed front runners the A’s would lose 100 games, but you can pencil them in for 90.  {Note: Doubront went on the DL after I wrote this, so things are even worse.}