Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If there's a worse time than right now for
the sports fan, please let me know.
Pro basketball will soon get better, I realize that.
As will college basketball as we (thankfully) finish up the meaningless regular
season, and the almost-as-meaningless conference tournament season and finally
get to the Madness.
The NHL, as stated in this space a week ago, is really good with the shortened
season, but that league thrives on its playoffs, which, obviously, aren't here
Golf doesn't count until the Masters.
And the NFL Draft is still almost two months away (NFL free agency begins next
Tuesday and that's cool for about half an hour before you figure out your
team didn't sign anybody).
But, thankfully, alleluia even, we have baseball. And today, in the early part
of spring training, let's take a look at the American League and some of the
questions that need to be answered in Florida and Arizona over the next four
weeks (on Thursday, the focus will shift to the National League).
How will the AL teams start to adjust to the Houston Astros coming over from
the National League?
Well, after they stop laughing, they'll deal with it. Let's face it, the 'Stros
were going to losing 100 games if they stayed in the NL. In the stronger AL,
sadly, they may lose 110. Really good seats still available.
A bigger adjustment trying to be made in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues is
getting pitchers ready to hit.
With interleague play now a season-long deal, AL pitchers are going to find
themselves swinging the bats all too often. They won't like and neither will
the fans, but when you have different rules in the same sport, you're asking
A solution? Either say goodbye to the designated hitter, which will never
happen because the union won't let it, or put the DH in both leagues for good.
I can't believe I just wrote that, and I would much rather kill off the DH and
make baseball truly baseball again, but adopting the DH for both leagues seems
like the only option.
There are few things better in the game than watching a pitcher who can hit,
and sacrifice bunt, to help his team and himself. Those guys, though, are way
(It amazes me, though, when you think about it. These 25-year-old pitchers
were undoubtedly the best hitters/pitchers not only on their high school teams
but in their whole local area, and not that long ago. But today, hand them a
bat and they hold it like it's a time bomb. What happened, fellas? You went
from Joe Stud hitter at Lincoln High to Al Dork holding a piece of wood in so
short a time. Weird.)
OK, moving on. Will we have a new player in the AL East? The Toronto Blue Jays,
who acquired the NL Cy Young winner in R.A. Dickey and most of the Miami
Marlins, are the chic pick to make a run at the top. And they'll be chased by,
or chasing, the New York Yankees? No. The Boston Red Sox? No. The Baltimore
Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays? Yes.
That's not good news for fans of the Bombers or the Sawx, but it is refreshing
for the rest of us to see new blood.
And out West we'll keep an eye on the "Angels product" as loaded Anaheim tries
to work in Josh Hamilton to a nasty lineup.
If Albert Pujols is healthy. And Hamilton is Hamilton. And Mike Trout comes
anywhere near to what he did last year. And let's not forget about Mark Trumbo.
Yes, that's a lot of ifs, but if you have enough ifs, some of them are going to
work out for you. In this case, the more ifs the better.
The AL West, thanks to the Astros (yeah, Astros!), now will have the same
number of teams as everybody else. Good symmetry at least.
All right, that's it for today. And we didn't even say (or even mention) the
team that's going to win the World Series. They're in the AL, but that pick
will come a little down the road. It'll likely be wrong, but we'll wait a bit.
Drew Markol has been a sportswriter and columnist for several Philadelphia-area
newspapers for over 25 years.
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