Andy Kirkaldy: Baseball season is proof that spring is here

Although we in the Great White North are all still suffering through snow, ice and temperatures colder than an NFL owner’s heart, rumor has it that the first day of spring coincides with the publication date for this issue of the Independent.
My dogs, who these days often dig in their heels at the doorway in protest when asked to venture out into the frozen tundra, certainly don’t trust the calendar.
I might not believe in an end to the polar vortex, either, but word arrives daily of men wearing gloves, cleats and caps while picking up balls and bats in places where plants are green and the weather is warm — magical destinations known as Florida and Arizona.
These men — almost all of whom say they are in the best shape of their careers, just want to help their teams win and will be ready to go by Opening Day — are playing baseball, and not a minute too soon.
While shoveling out our walkways, scraping our windshields and contemplating the last five or six logs in our woodpiles, at least we can look forward to sitting on our decks in the sun and listening to the Sox or Yankees sometime in the months to come. (Sure, it will probably rain, but try to think positive about the weather. It has to even out, right? Right?)
But what do we have to look forward to during those broadcasts?
Well, to start with, the standard disclaimer: Who knows?
A year ago, the forecast for the Sox after 2012’s 69-win fiasco resembled today’s 10-day prediction on weather.com — cold, partly cloudy, rain and snow showers for the foreseeable future.
Step right up if you predicted the World Series title. The line forms at the rear.
2014? Well, the Sox look good. The team appears to have five decent starting pitchers plus a few more guys who should be at least league-average ready to go at their Triple-A franchise. The bullpen looks deep, again with reinforcements available at AAA.
But reliable and under-rated shortstop Stephen Drew is gone, as are, of course, centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (more on him in a bit) and catcher and uniform tailor’s challenge Jarrod Saltalamacchia. And a few Sox players had either career or surprisingly good years in 2014, such as aging DH David Ortiz, Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino and Mike Carp. Plus teams tend to slip back after winning the Series.
Still, the Sox should compete for a Wild Card with the Yankees. Yes, those guys. There are question marks, but they should be better. Newcomers Ellsbury, right fielder Carlos Beltran and catcher Brian McCann will help, and if either Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira return to health the offense will be much better. The Yankees can carry the mediocre second and third basemen.
The Yankees’ biggest 2013 problem, of course, was pitching. But the addition of Masahiro “Professor Toru” Tanaka to the rotation will help, as will the apparent return to health of Michael Pineda. C.C. Sabathia and Ivan Nova have had good springs, Hideki Kuroda should have one decent year left, and David Phelps is ready to step into the rotation if necessary.
David Robertson should fill in ably for the departed Mariano Rivera at closer, leaving the only real Yankee question marks the rest of the bullpen.
But both teams will probably end up chasing the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have a loaded pitching rotation and bullpen and an offense that should be better with a full year of Will Myers and maybe a full season of health for Evan Longoria.
The Tigers are still loaded and should win the AL Central. It’s hard to see the Wild Card coming out of that division; Cleveland over-performed a year ago and is likely to drop back. Oakland and Texas will battle again in the AL West, with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Greater Eastern Los Angeles County or whatever they’re called possibly challenging.
Look for Tampa, Detroit and Oakland to win the Divisions, and Boston, New York and Texas to fight it out for the two Wild Card spots. Tigers in the Series, and finally they claim the championship.
And, maybe someday, look for temperatures that won’t freeze water. 

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