#9 - Minnesota Twins: Anyone else remember when the Twins were on the precipice of contraction? For awhile, it looked like a generation of young baseball fans would only remember them as the featured team in 1994's Little Big League and 1998's Major League: Back to the Minors. Thankfully, the in-game imagery of Scott Bakula and Ted McGinley has been replaced by C Joe Mauer, 1B Justin Morneau and SP Johan Santana. Mauer is the hometown hero that every town in the Midwest wants just so they can point to their tractors and churches in an attempt to justify their landlocked, sh*tty existence as "family values and small town pride". Meanwhile, Santana is the foreigner that the locals only conditionally love, until he leaves for free agency in 2008.
#8 - Los Angeles Dodgers: Nope, not a fan. Never have been, never will be. And, this has nothing to do with October 15, 1988. Tommy Lasorda and his insufferable ego grated on me when I was eight-years-old. This was years before I learned how many pitchers he killed from overuse and too many innings. These days, the Dodgers are absolutely loaded with players I depise. Good ol' boy Jeff Kent would be labeled an asshole-for-life if he hadn't played the babyface-by-default for all those years alongside Barry Bonds in San Francisco. 1B Nomar Garciaparra mentally quit on that '04 Red Sox team, yet he keeps finding work. SP Brad Penny was a cancer in the clubhouse last year, while SP Derek Lowe joined the Dodgers in '05, then promptly left his wife for the Fox Sports West reporter who was covering the team. That last one I'm OK with.
#7 - Arizona Diamondbacks: The 2007 D'Backs might be the most entertaining team in baseball. OF Eric Byrnes is a mediocre fielder and overrated hitter, but his hair-on-fire style of play is a Sportscenter mainstay. 2B Orlando Hudson compared his GM to a pimp when he was in Toronto and is great glove in the field. 1B Conor Jackson, 3B Chad Tracy and RF Carlos Quentin (currently fighting a labrum injury) could all hit 20+ HRs apiece, while CF Chris Young might have the best upside of all the kids. These ain't your
#6 - Los Angeles Angels: I f*ckin' hate the Angels. I hate their team, I hate their fans and their 2002 World Championship took 20 years off my life, which I'd already earmarked as my "divorced sugar daddy decades". I hate RF Vladimir Guerrero's batting helmet because it looks like an unwiped ass. I hate UT Chone Figgins for running from his unpronounceable Afrocentric-first name by having us all call him "Sean". I hate Mike Scioscia because he was on the '88 Dodgers. I hate SPs Bartolo Colon and John Lackey because fat people with perms have earned our scorn and ridicule. I hate 2B Howie Kendrick's wispy black-tasche and LF Garrett Anderson's, too. And, I hate Jered Weaver because long-haired white boys look like little girls.
#5 - Chicago Cubs: The only thing I love more than the fact that Dusty Baker's overrated black ass was bounced in Chicago is that The Tribune Company decided to wait until after he was canned to spend some money. Truth be told, I equally dislike new manager Lou Piniella, but all these soft-focus "it's a new Lou" features that have infected every sports media feature this spring will be high comedy when his heart explodes while arguing balls and strikes in April. Yeah, they overpaid for everything, but how can you not like OF Alfonso Soriano in that lineup, regardless of where he hits/plays? 1B Derrek Lee and 3B Aramis Ramirez should get 1000+ PAs between 'em and even the dregs of their lineup (Hi, Cesar Izturis!) aren't any worse than the dregs of the rest of the division. Throw in SP Carlos Zambrano in a money year with the occasionally above-average Ted Lilly and sure-to-improve Jason Marquis and the Cubbies will be just as undeserving of a playoff berth as last year's Cardinals, but they'll back into one, anyway.
#4 - New York Mets: Sorry, East Coast Bias Guy, but I was actively rooting against your Mets last year. Y'see, 20 years ago, the '86 Mets captured the hearts of a nation fractured by the New Coke/Classic Coke Civil War and the mysterious disappearance of the McDLT. Those Mets were a collection of lovable thugs, miscreants, cokeheads and egos. The 2006 variety had a business-like blandness which reminded me of another New York baseball team whose name escapes me. Personality-wise, they're like 25 Kevin McReynoldses, when I couldn't stomach one. That doesn't mean they aren't the team to beat in the NL East, because they are. I guess I'm the only one who wouldn't mind a few more Lastings Milledge personas to Paul Lo Ducas. And, I'm certain that Lenny Dykstra wouldn't have ended a playoff series looking at strike three.
#3 - New York Yankees: Your mileage may vary, but 99% of the Yankee fans I meet are actually a rational, knowledgeable lot who appreciate the team's history and remember the lean years from 1982-1995. So, I don't begrudge 'em that dynasty-tastic run from 1996-2000. Conversely, I hope Yankee fans understand that Satan now owns all of their souls and Beelzebub is your starting third baseman. Oh, I kid. He's actually the shortstop (and only half-devil, at that). And, who can't wait for the return of Michael Kay to the YES broadcast booth for another season of heavily-biased broadcasting? I hope he can keep those pipes lubricated during the nearly 60 ulcer-inducing games the Bombers will play against the dog sh*t of their own division from Baltimore to Toronto to Tampa Bay. Is there still anyone out there that doubts this squad could win 100 games by accident? But, who'll bounce them out in the first round of the playoffs this year? I call Cleveland.
#2 - Cleveland Indians: After being picked by many as a sleeper team that could go deep into October last year, the Tribe finished 18 games out of the money. More surprisingly, they just barely outdrew the audience-starved Oakland A's to finish 11th in the American League. In 2007, the Injuns return the criminally underrated Travis Hafner (.308/.439/.659) in the middle of their order, with the equally anonymous Grady Sizemore (28 HR, 22 SB, .375 OBP, .533 SLG) at the top of the lineup. These aren't the great teams that never won it all in the '90s, but C.C. Fat-bathia, Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee are arguably better than some of those Dave Burba, Charles Nagy, Jaret Wright and Orel Hershiser squads. Pundits and prognosticators are understandably leery about a team led by teen manager Eric Wedge. To say nothing for a keystone combo that features a Black guy named "Josh" at 2B and dyslexic SS Jhonny Peralta. Didn't Keanu Reeves star in a movie just like this?
#1 - Boston Red Sox: Can we all agree that the 2004 Red Sox team was the most overexposed, shoved-down-our-throats, feel-good saccharin story in sports in all our lifetimes? Nothing against them or their fans (hee!), but I was sick of 'em less than 24 hours after the final out. That said, there isn't another non-Oakland AL team whose games I'm more interested in this year than theirs. SP Daisuke Matsuzaka actually seems to be worth the nine figures in combined posting fee and salary. DH David Ortiz and LF Manny Ramirez almost give off that Bondsian n' Pujolsish "drop what you're doing when they come to the plate" presence, while Jerry Remy's sobriety in the NESN broadcast booth is usually a tenuous proposition by the sixth inning. I still can't stand Curt Schilling, Bill Simmons, Tuck Rule Tom Baby Daddy Brady or anyone from Greater New England, but I'll concede that Coco Crisp's name still amuses me.