Dave's Sports Views

Analysis, humor and opinion on the sports world

Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Break 'em up

The first week of the baseball season always provides the sort of surprises that breed overreaction, so with that in mind:

Get ready for the Tigers-Brewers World Series!

Detroit and Milwaukee are the only teams yet to lose this year. Granted, they have gone 4-0 against less than overwhelming competition. The Tigers beat the lowly Royals twice and then teed off on the weak Rangers pitching staff. The Brewers swept Pittsburgh and then beat Arizona.

But nevertheless, two teams that haven't been competitive for nearly 15 years are winning games that they should. That's the first step toward climbing out of mediocrity.

The Brewers are everyone's sleeper pick this year after finishing 81-81 last year (their first .500 season since Paul Molitor left in 1992). I chose them to finish third, because it's never a baseball season in Milwaukee without major injuries. But the front office has built this team smartly. GM Doug Melvin is one of the finest in the game, and Milwaukee has a crop of young talent in Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart and many others. The Brewers' farm system was once a wasteland but now has the depth of talent to carry the team for many years -- critical in a market that can't afford a high-payroll team.

And here's an example of how good a GM Melvin is: Last winter he traded Brewers closer Dan Kolb, probably overvalued after posting 39 saves in 2004, to Atlanta for Jose Capellan, a young prospect with a great arm. After Kolb flamed out as the Braves' closer, he's back in Milwaukee this year setting up Derrick Turnbow. If starter Ben Sheets can recover quickly from a back injury, Milwaukee certainly will be in the hunt for the wild card in the weak National League.

Detroit is a different story, but the Tigers are benefiting from the adage about a rising tide lifting all boats. The AL Central had previously been the sport's worst division, but the three-year division run by the pitching-rich Twins, followed by the White Sox title and the Indians' emergence, have made it one of baseball's best divisions.

Now Detroit, after a year of bringing in veterans like Pudge Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco and talented but injury-prone Magglio Ordonez, has a team that can show up without getting laughed out of visiting stadiums. Case in point: The Twins can basically thank the Tigers for their three division titles, winning 41 of 56 meetings between the two teams. Last year, Detroit won eight of the 19 meetings and was only four games under .500 until collapsing with an 8-24 record beginning September 1.

But Detroit is quietly assembling young talent as well, in pitchers Jeremy Bonderman, Fernando Rodney and Justin Verlander, outfielder Curtis Granderson and first baseman Chris Shelton, who is hitting a cool .688 with five homers so far this year.

Both Detroit and Milwaukee opened new stadiums in this decade to sparse crowds who preferred winning to hope. Now, though the season is far too early to draw conclusions, both cities may finally be cashing in.


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