COLUMN BY TIM WEBBER
Baseball is a cruel sport.
For most fans, over the course of a 162-game season, baseball will slowly grind all of their hopes and dreams to dust. Failing that, it will allow them a few more games before tearing their hearts out in one quick, devastating moment. 29 of 30 teams end the season without a championship, and the ending generally comes about in a painful manner.
Baseball is terrible. But spring training is here, and I’m excited. And you should be too. Hope springs anew — unless you’re a Phillies fan. Even then, spring is still a time for excitement, a time for what-ifs, a time for just-maybes. So let’s make some prognostications of our own and see if we can’t predict the unpredictable.
We’ll focus on the teams that most fans at Drake are likely to support – mainly teams from the AL and NL Central divisions. I’ll start with the American League, since one of them was the only one to have a happy ending in 2015.
The Kansas City Royals, yes, for so long the lovable losers, won the World Series for the first time in 30 years last October and have the makings of a dynasty.
I’m from the Kansas City area, but before you accuse me of being a homer, know two things: One, Royals fans don’t know what homers are. Our players never hit them! And two, I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs this year.
The Royals didn’t lose a whole lot of their championship squad and retained homegrown star Alex Gordon, so they certainly have the potential for another World Series run. But the general sense around baseball is that the team has over-performed the last two years, and the AL Central is so tightly-packed this year that anything can happen.
Maybe one of the teams that could overtake them is the Chicago White Sox. USA Today predicted they’ll win 90 games this year. I’m not buying it myself. They made several key moves this offseason that could pan out, but keep in mind they did the same thing last year to no avail.
Heir apparent to the AL Central throne — at least, in a few years — are the Minnesota Twins. They have a glut of young talent coming up through their system and in 2015 gave their fans a taste of what’s to come. Mega-prospect Byron Buxton will be a delight to watch over the next decade, if he can stay healthy. By 2018, this division will be the Twins’ to lose. But I think it’s more likely that 2016 sees them hit some growing pains.
So if not those three, who wins the division? You’d have better luck drawing straws than trying to predict this division, so just give me who I had last year: the Cleveland Indians, who have a strong stable of pitchers and always seem on the verge of taking that next step.
Now to the NL Central, where the players we watched grow up with the Iowa Cubs turned into world-beaters with the major-league club. After years of torment, the Chicago Cubs look positioned to succeed for years to come. Their young power hitters like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber are electrifying, and Jake Arrieta is one of the very best pitchers in the game.
A championship is assuredly on the way. But is it this year? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.
The Cubs’ main competition in the division are the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs may be set up to succeed for the next few years, but the Cardinals are set up to succeed every year. You can never count them out. You can criticize their methods (and the Astros, victims of a Cardinals hacking scandal, certainly would), but you can’t criticize the results. I foresee a possible repeat of last year — the Cardinals win the division, but the Cubs get the better of them in the playoffs.
As for fans of the Milwaukee Brewers, well, the best preview I can give you is no preview. They’ll probably be better than the Reds this year?
Here are my final predictions.
I expect the league MVPs will be Mike Trout of the Angels and Bryce Harper of the Nationals. The Cy Young award winners will be David Price of the Red Sox and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers. And I expect to be wrong on at least three of those four predictions.
Sorry, Cubs fans. The San Francisco Giants will win the World Series this year. And not just because it’s an even-numbered year. They have the makings of another formidable team. On the bright side, they’ll be playing the Houston Astros in what should be another extremely exciting World Series.
And if you’re upset that I don’t think your team will win it all this year, don’t worry. Baseball is cruel and unforgiving, and this entire column will almost certainly be proven wrong by June. In the meantime, let’s put thoughts of snow out of our minds and enjoy the most fundamental, optimistic image of the sport: the beginning of spring training games in Arizona and Florida.