Here's to the two best smiles in the major leagues! Of course, if you were Manny Ramirez or Ken Griffey, Jr., you'd be smiling, too...
The Red Sox and A's played the earliest opening day in major league history this morning, with the Sox prevailing 6-5 in 10 innings. Manny drove in four runs and rookie Brandon Moss tied the game in the ninth with a one-out homer. If Manny is feeling it from the get-go, look out world. A big reason why the Red Sox enter the season as favorites to repeat is because they won it all last year despite Manny having and off year while David Ortiz struggled in the early going.
My quickie evaluation of the Sox and their main competition:
Boston Red Sox: The best balanced team in the American League and therefore major league baseball. An outstanding bullpen supports a strong rotation headed by bona fide ace Josh Beckett. Big If: They're depending on LHP John Lester to finally realize his promise after beating lymphoma and on the continued development of rookie RHP Clay Bucholz.
Cleveland Indians: These guys are good, giving the Red Sox all they could handle in the ALCS. C. C. Sabbathia and Fausto Carmona are the best 1-2 starters in the league. The lineup is solid, although it's short on guys who really scare you. Big If: Is the bottom of the rotation good enough to pick Sabbathia and Carmona?
Detroit Tigers: The acquisition of Miguel Cabrera gives them a fearsome lineup that should lead the league runs scored. The rotation is good but nothing special, and the bullpen is a question mark. Big If: Can Dontrelle Willis turn around his declining numbers now that he is with a new team and will have all the offensive support he can use?
Los Angeles Angels: They won their division last year, so you have to respect them. The additions of Jon Garland and Torii Hunter will help, but I just don't see them as being in a class with the above three teams. Big If: Is Hunter good enough to protect Vladimir Guerrero?
New York Yankees: The Yanks still have plenty of guys who can produce, but overall this is an aging lineup with holes. The Indians exposed them in last year's playoffs as a team good enough to run up its record by beating up on weak opponents, but not good enough to take on a talented team in a post-season series. Big If: Can young pitchers Phillip Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain all come through?
Toronto Blue Jays: Once again, a popular pick to disrupt Red Sox-Yankee dominance in the AL East. They are very good up the middle, and it will be interesting to see if Scott Rolen can revive his career in Toronto. He's 32, meaning that history says he won't. Rolen was awfully good in his prime, though. Big If: Are A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan really healthy? They have to be for Toronto to contend.
What Did He Say? "Akinori Iwamura (Tampa Bay) may have the biggest thighs of any second baseman in modern day, but he has looked like a very adequate defender at the position."
Peter Gammons, ESPN
The Five Best Baseball Novels:
Bang The Drum Slowly, Mark Harris
You Know Me Al, Ring Lardner
The Natural, Bernard Malamud
The Great American Novel, Philip Roth
Three Nonfiction Books You Must Read To Understand The Game As It Is Today:
The Three Most Important Figures In The History Of Baseball:
See you at the ballpark!