Brandon Veale column: This MLB preview is late and just on time
If MLB doesn't have to start on time, I don't either.
DULUTH — Spring seems to have arrived late to the Northland.
No, I'm not talking about the endless succession of clipper systems that have dumped late-winter slopfests on the area the last four weeks in a row.
I'm talking about the 2022 Major League Baseball season.
Baseball's powers that be, who have managed not to kill the proverbial golden goose for 25 straight years dating back to the 1994-95 strike, decided to rough it up a little. This labor war of choice mostly meant no offseason transactions for three months and a lot of dithering, as commissioner Rob Manfred seemed shocked that one of the most powerful labor unions in sports refused to take any of a number of transparently bad deals.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, when the cost of missing games and negative public opinion began to affect clubs' actual bottom lines, the owners came to the negotiating table. After one more attempt to make a bad deal, they started arbitrarily canceling games, only for them to be resurrected a week later when they came to a deal.
What did we, the fans, get? The designated hitter in every game, which I'm not fond of, but for reasons that are different that you think. A couple of extra wild cards, which we'll remember on Labor Day when .500 teams are still in playoff races. This week, Manfred gifted MLB players headphones as a peace offering. No word on whether or not they'll muffle his words the next time he goes off script and accidentally trashes the game he's supposed to be the guardian of.
This year's originally-scheduled Opening Day was March 31, which was insanely early. Though the Twins were supposed to be on the road, not everyone can open indoors or down south, so we were probably spared a bunch of snow-outs. The willingness of ownership to sacrifice some of these games shows their worth. School's not out yet, so it's one less week of watching ballplayers in balaclavas trying not to pull a hamstring in front of crowds of 9,000 people in winter jackets.
Furthermore, I gained the justification necessary to write my MLB preview column a week late. Sure, the Brewers and Twins have played four games, but if you plug that into a 17-game NFL schedule, we're late in the second quarter of the first game of the year. There's still a lot to preview and if MLB doesn't have to start on time, I don't either.
The Twins may have underperformed expectations worse than any team in baseball last year. After trading Jose Berrios to Toronto and losing Kenta Maeda to elbow surgery, Minnesota played some three-dimensional chess and somehow ended up with the most-desired player on the free-agent market: shortstop Carlos Correa. MLB will use this to try and convince you that their economic system works great while conveniently ignoring that the Correa deal has more easy outs than a Little League team and there's still a fifth of the league that's not trying very hard.
Correa still can't pitch, which leaves manager Rocco Baldelli to choose from a bunch of youngsters (Bailey Ober, Joe Ryan), reclamation projects (Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer, Chris Paddack) and one proven Major League starter in Sonny Gray.
Laying aside that last weekend's series against the Mariners is a small sample against a team that could be quite good, the Twins seem overdue for some positive regression. The American League Central, though no longer disastrously bad, is still quite green. The Twins chose wisely to strike now before the likes of Riley Greene (Tigers), Spencer Torkelson (Tigers) and Bobby Witt Jr. (Royals) get comfortable in the big leagues. Even then, the Chicago White Sox seem to be at the front of the line, which might throw even a good Minnesota team into a busy Wild Card tier including the Mariners and any of the AL East teams other than Baltimore.
Speaking of Baltimore, to which the Milwaukee Brewers lost in an interleague game on Monday, they along with the Cubs, Pirates, Reds, Rockies, Nationals, A's and Diamondbacks, are well within MLB's contingent of no-hopers for 2022. You'd think this would bode well for the Brewers out of the gate, but they're currently 1-3 and have hit 2-for-22 with runners in scoring position in this infant season. Wisconsinites, used to panicking every time Aaron Rodgers posts on Instagram, can take some solace. The floor for the NL Central is as high as it gets in baseball last year. Then again, that's what they said about the Twins this time last year.
So sit back and enjoy the 2022 baseball season, even if you have to do it inside for another week or 10.
Brandon's MLB predictions for 2022
AL East: 1. Rays, 2. Blue Jays (WC), 3. Red Sox (WC), 4. Yankees, 5. Orioles
AL Central: 1. White Sox, 2. Twins, 3. Tigers, 4. Royals, 5. Guardians
AL West: 1. Astros, 2. Mariners (WC), 3. Angels, 4. Rangers, 5. A's
NL East: 1. Braves, 2. Phillies, 3. Mets, 4. Marlins, 5. Nationals
NL Central: 1. Cardinals, 2. Brewers (WC), 3. Reds, 4. Cubs, 5. Pirates
NL West: 1. Dodgers, 2. Padres (WC), 3. Giants (WC), 4. Diamondbacks, 5. Rockies
Wild Card (best of three): Blue Jays over Mariners, Red Sox over White Sox, Brewers over Cardinals, Padres over Giants
Division Series (best of five): Astros over Blue Jays, Rays over Red Sox, Dodgers over Padres, Braves over Brewers
League Championship Series (best of seven): Rays over Astros, Dodgers over Braves
World Series: Dodgers over Rays (in 5)
Brandon Veale is the sports editor of the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.