Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Previewing major-league baseball season

The Major League Baseball season opens tonight. Well, because the Astros are involved, it might not be considered actual major-league baseball.

The Astros will be featured on ESPN because they are switching to the American League after spending the first 51 years of their history in the National League.

And that's pretty much the only reason the Astros are of any interest to a national audience.

They also get recognition today in our Two Cents preview of the major-league season as being the worst team. Here's the rest of our trip around the majors.

Best team

The Angels were already a pretty good team. Last season, they added free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson as well as promoted immediate superstar Mike Trout from the minors. This offseason, they signed Josh Hamilton. Hamilton, Trout and Peter Bourjos might be the best defensive outfield in baseball, while Hamilton and Trout might be capable of driving in 250 runs. Perhaps there isn't a lot of pitching after Wilson and Jared Weaver. But who needs pitching when you can mash like the Angels?

Worst team

Poor Bo Porter. He gets to be a big-league manager for the first time, but he's the manager of what might be the worst team since the 2003 Tigers lost 119 games. The Astros set a team record by losing 106 games in 2011. They broke that record with 107 losses last year. The record will be broken again this season. When Carlos Peña is your big offseason move and your most recognizable player, you've got issues.

Team that will be better than you think

Everyone is counting out the Red Sox after they tore up the roster when bringing in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez didn't pan out. No, the Red Sox are not going to win the American League East, but adding Ryan Dempster to the starting rotation and elite closer Joel Hanrahan to the back end of the staff were solid moves. The Red Sox already have decent starting pitching with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, and the return of former pitching coach John Farrell as manager adds stability that Bobby Valentine didn't provide.

Team that will be worse than you think

The Orioles were the surprise of baseball last season, winning 93 games and making the postseason while playing in the always-tough AL East. But here's the thing: Last season, they went 29-9 in one-run games. That .763 winning percentage was the best in the majors in 122 years. No way they put up those kinds of numbers again. (Same with their ridiculous 16-2 record in extra-inning games.) The O's lineup is solid. But pitching will be an issue, and that will be the difference in losing, instead of winning, a bunch of one-run games.

Team that will be the same as always

Sorry, Pirates fans, the Buccos will do the same thing they always do. They'll win a bunch of games early, get you excited, take a nose dive, then finish with a losing record for the 21st consecutive year.

Player who will be better than you think

Watch out for B.J. Upton. The centerfielder is going to have a monster season with the Braves. Prediction: 30 homers, 90 RBIs and 30 steals.

Player who will be worse than you think

The Rays will miss James Shields, especially his 227 innings. But he won't have the impact in Kansas City he would have had in Tampa Bay. He won't match his 15 victories from 2012 or all those innings.

Three players in new uniforms who will take some getting used to

1. Third baseman Michael Young with the Phillies after 13 seasons in Texas.

2. Former Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis wearing Yankees pinstripes.

3. Of course, B.J. Upton in anything but a Rays uniform.

Three things that popped into my head

1. The Yankees will finish with a losing record for the first time since 1992. Wow, 20 straight winning seasons. That's remarkable.

2. Know who I want to see have a tremendous comeback season? Leftfielder Carl Crawford with the Dodgers. He's a good guy. And the point has been proved: The grass isn't always greener outside Tropicana Field.

3. I don't care what the Rays do this season. If you don't think Joe Maddon is the best manager in baseball, well, you're just wrong.

tom jones' two cents

     
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