Defending league champs enter season as teams to beat again
Three of the top four teams on my preseason Top 30 are in the American League East, making it quite the lopsided list. Such great divisional strength isn't totally fair to the upstart Rays, of course, whose payroll is less than half of the Red Sox' and about a third of the Yankees'. But Tampa Bay isn't backing away from the challenge of competing with those two monsters. "I love it,'' Rays manager
That advice might actually be better suited for a couple of the teams at the bottom of the Top 30. The Pirates, for instance, are staring at their 18th straight losing season, which looks like all but a certainty.
But while the Pirates' performance appears fairly predictable, things appear far less certain for the vast majority of teams. Below the seven "Powers'' are 12 that are "Contenders'' and two more that are "Hopefuls'' (just below Contenders), meaning more than two-thirds of teams should have hope for October. A decent playoff case could be made for any of the clubs among the contenders and hopefuls, which comprise teams No. 8 through 21 on the list, and a case could even be made for putting the middle two groups in a hat to re-order them. That kind of parity should make for an interesting season.
Red Sox people are concerned about
He said his goal is "to go back to normal and rake,'' and he doesn't see why it shouldn't be do-able. "I feel good,'' he said. "Hopefully, I'll have a good year.''
Unlike some others, he doesn't think he's losing it, and sees himself playing another three or four years. "I don't think age is a big deal,'' he said. "Besides, I just turned 34.''
Others see the declining numbers and wonder whether he's on his way out. Ortiz, meanwhile, is keeping his positive outlook.
"When you go to the plate with a bat in your hand, anything can happen,'' he said.
On the cusp of the regular season, here are the best of the remaining free agents:
• The Rangers' waiver-wire pickup of
• Congratulations to