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Spring Training is right around the corner, and Smith's here to tell you everything you need to know

In this world, only a handful of phrases illicit such powerful feelings of hope in the hearts of guys. Open Bar, Touching Allowed, and Don't worry, it's Not the Clap, are just a few. Still, there is arguably no sweeter sound than these four simple words Pitchers and Catchers Report! Coming in to spring training, no team (besides the Tigers) have been mathematically eliminated, and people are convincing themselves that THIS IS THE YEAR. More importantly, I'd much rather watch 10 consecutive hours of the Devil Rays and the Tigers in a Spring Training Contest than deal with the dearth of programming on ESPN right now. I am pretty sure that at one point today, all 4 ESPN channels were being controlled by Randy and Jason Sklar, who have done more to kill sports comedy than Bill Dwyer, Jeff Cesario and Matt Vasgersian combined.
Just to get us in the right frame of mind, I'll just give you some of my favorite traditions.

- Mike Piazza getting thrown at for 10 consecutive at bats
- Some unlucky team talking themselves into Carl Everett
- Sob story news reports about how (John Rocker, Rick Ankiel, Mark Wholers) are ready to come back from two disappointing seasons and stay in top form.
- Ken Griffey predicting an injury free year.
- At least one mets player arrested (coke, hookers, both)

So without further ado, let me bring you the first part of my MLB preview


AMERICAN LEAGUE


West

1. Anaheim Angels
With the acquisition of Kelvim ?Pablo? Escobar, Bartolo Colon and outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels are without a doubt the team to beat in the AL West. I don't understand how this GM job has gone nearly unnoticed. All off-season, we've heard about the Sox and the Yanks, and no one has bothered to realize that the Angels have become probably the second best team in the AL.




2. Oakland A's

Losing Tejada and Foulke really hurts the A's, who are set to ride out the season on the arms of the ?Big 3? Mulder, Zito and Hudson. On February 2nd, the A's signed utlility infielder Eric Karros, to plug up some defensive holes, leaving me with only one question. Do you remember when Karros was GOOD? It wasn't that long ago. That Dodgers team was STACKED. Piazza, Mondesi and Karros were supposed to be the hot young stars that would usher the MLB into the new century. Instead, they became a homosexual, and head case, and a utility man respectively. Funny how things work out.


3. Seattle Mariners

Among the big blows dealt to the Mariners this off-season were losing Mike Cameron to the Mets and John Mabry to the Cardinals. Still, the biggest blow by far was closer Kaz Sasaki's decision to return to the Japanese Leauge, thus terminating his contract with Seattles. He will be missed.
One last thought on Kaz. When Bob Melvin went out to visit Sasaki on the mound, do you ever think he fought off the urge to ask ?DONG! Have you seen my- auto-mobile?? Yea. Me too.






4. Texas Rangers

For words, Ewing Theory. Not Yet.
I have a burning question that needs to be asked. When Alfonso Soriano moves to the outfield, will he immediately turn into Torii Hunter? Or will there be a waiting period?





AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL


1. Kansas City Royals

Call me crazy, but these guys are my odds on favorite to win the Central Division this year. They were hot during the beginning of last year, but cooled off after the All-Star break. Now, with the acquisition of Jaime Cerda from the Mets (make no mistake, this kid will be an outstanding reliever) they have bolstered their bull pens. Add Benito Santiago to the mix, and you've got some real veteran leadership, or at least a good star for an all male porno.


2. Chicago White Sox

Esteban Loaiza is going to need to step it up once again this season, as the White Sox lose ace Bartolo Colon. Still, I don't think Loaiza will be half of was in 2003. It's what I like to call the James Baldwin Theory and it goes as follows: Chicago White Sox Pitcher A (who for the sake of argument, is a journeyman pitcher with a lifetime era of 4.58, pitches a gem of a season, and receives serious consideration for the Cy Young award) 4 years later, he's the fifth starter on the METS. ?Nuff said. Still in one of the most savvy off-season moves, the White Sox released resident loon Carl Everett for, well, being resident loon Carl Everett. Seriously, this guy is like the MLB equivalent of Ricky Davis. Solid guy to have on your team, but only if you don't look him directly in the eyes.


3. Minnesota Twins

It's not easy to lose Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins and still claim to have an effective bull-pen. In fact, if your closer's name is J.C, you are most defenitley in trouble. Barring a blockbuster trade, the Twins aren't going to get that extra puzzle piece that they need. A disappointing season for the Twinkees.


4. Cleveland Indians

Defenitley my favorite team this post season. Between OF Milton Bradley (I wish I was making that name up) Spending three days in jail for traffic violations and P Kaz Tadano acting in a gay porno video? It's starting to have that same old 2002 Mets feel. Good Times.
Also, I'll ask. Was this porno in anyway related to baseball? And if it was, was it called ?The Humpire?? Believe me, I stay up at night coming up with that stuff.



5. Detroit Tigers

Yep . . . They still have a team. I think Vegas should make a pool for how quickly Pudge demands to get traded. He's going to have the Shannon Doherty ?Charmed can't survive without ME!? Face going on as soon as the Tigers jump out to an 0-20 start. Yep . . .




American League East (the cream of the crop)


1. New York Yankees

As much as I hate to say it, The Yankees lineup looks pretty much unstoppable. Top to bottom, it might be one of the best lineups of all time. A-Rod (I'll get back to that later) Jeter, Giambi, Sheffield, Matsui, Williams, Lofton . . .wow. amazing.
The Yanks aren't unstoppable though. After losing Pettite and Traitor Hick to the ?Stros, the rotation is shaky at best. With no lefty in the top 5, the Yankees will inevitably have to rely on one more big move. Also, Kevin Brown has more miles on him than Emmitt Smith and Evander Holyfield combined. Seriously, Kevin Brown's shoulder is slowly becoming the Fred Taylor's groin of the MLB. It's always great to know that no matter what happens during the 162 game regular season Kevin Brown will be done way before June.
Lastly, it's funny to see theYankees adopt a strategy similar to that
of the NWO in the late 90's. Next thing they need to do is to fire Brian Cashman, and replace him with Eric Bischoff. (sorry, I know about four of you got that reference. The lesson as always, I'm a loser)






2. Boston Red Sox

This off-season is exactly what we've come to expect from the Sox, a rollercoaster ride with twists and turns, that will inevitably not only disappoint you, but forcibly eject you from your seat on the top of the loop de loop.
After the horrific loss to the Yankees in the ALCS, the Sox seemed to finally get their act together, start shelling out money for free agents and put the best possible team on the field. First came Schilling, then came Foulke, and Red Sox fans eagerly awaited the trade for A-Rod. Then, in true Sox fashion Larry Luchino simultaneously lowballed A-Rod, offended Nomar, and hid Manny's Prozac. Not good times in the Red Sox nation.
Honestly, I see the Red Sox like I see Mike from the movie Last American Virgin. We are trying so hard to finally get there that when were are inevitably shot down, we spend the next couple of years driving around in our Chevy listening to Bobby Engram sing ?Just Once? while bawling our eyes out. Yep. It's hard times in the nation.




3. Baltimore Orioles

Consider these guys Yankees-lite. They signed two big name FAs in Javy
Lopez and Miggy Tejada, but they still don't have enough pitching to compete with the big boys. Sidney Ponson, their ace, is probably good for 12-14 wins this season, which isn't going to be enough for the O-Birds.
To get back to Ponson though, doesn't anyone else find his situation more than a little strange? Did the Giants just rent him out for the post-season last year? And if so, couldn't Roger Clemens do something like this? I mean, couldn't he just whore himself out to a different team every month? Officially I mean.


3. Toronto Blue Jays

To be honest, I'm thoroughly enjoying the Roy Halladay era. He's like Patrick Swayze from Road House, and Michael Chiklis as the Commish rolled into one. Simply fantastic. Still, they haven't surrounded him with a decent cast of supporting pitchers. In a half hearted attempt to remedy this, The Blue Jays ?Splurged? on Ted Lily, who, four years ago, actually patented the face that has now come to be known as the ?Jeff Weaver I don't belong in Yankee Stadium? face. Good Times in the Blue Jays world? Nope.




4. Tampa Bay Devil Rays

I will commend the D-Rays on the job they did in the off season. First of all,
the signed some big name veterans, like Fred McGriff and traded for the
incomparable and popular Tino Martinez. Then, in one of the shrewdest
moves this off-season, they actually released Jason Tyner who has become
the MLB equivalent of Bobby Joe Hebert, just inexplicably hanging onto
teams as a back up.
Still, this team won't be a contender in the strongest division in the
Major League. Couple more years.


Coming soon, NL preview . . . Until next time sports fans, . . .

I'M RICK JAMES! BITCH!

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