Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox are all smiles entering the 2010 season, and why not? The rotation shapes up very nicely in what should be a wide-open AL Central Division.

About nine years ago I did some historical research and data entry for a couple of guys who were building a baseball simulation program.  All I asked for in return of about 400 hours of work one winter was a copy of the program to play with for free.

That program will cost me another 150+ hours of work this winter getting it set up to run.  Inputting the players' stats and projections is part of it, and adding the exact MLB schedule is another time consuming task.

Ah, the MLB schedule which is where I wanted to go when I started typing.  If you're going to seriously wager on MLB win totals, you have to start by looking at the schedule.  Sounds obvious, but many do not understand how skewed the slates are in many cases.

Big PapiNot wanting to stand on my soapbox and rant – yet again – about how the schedules are messed up year after year after year, I will simply pose one question: If the Yankees had to play three extra games against the Red Sox at Fenway than they played in the Bronx, do you think we'd ever hear the end of it?

That is exactly how it works for the Cardinals this season, with St. Louis on the road at Wrigley Field nine times while getting the rival Cubs at Busch six times.  That is, in fact, how it works every season in the NL Central with the 6-9/9-6 splits very common.

After pitching a fit about it for the last 6-7 years, even offering Bud Selig to have a fifth-grader fix it for him, I know that complaining will never get it changed.  But I at least feel it is my duty to warn serious MLB futures players about it.  For instance:

  • The Red Sox are, in effect, the fifth team in the four-team AL West this season.  Boston will play 39 games against ALW foes, getting 20 of them in Fenway.  That includes seven each vs. the Angels and Rangers.  The Sawks will play 33 games against the five-team AL Central.
  • Speaking of the Rangers, they will play their usual 57 games against ALW opposition.  They get a 10-9 home/away split against both the Angels and Mariners, with the 9-10 split vs. the A's.  Of Texas' remaining 105 games on the schedule, 44 will be vs. the AL East (42%).  The Rangers will make two trips across the border to play the Blue Jays.
  • Back to the Cardinals.  St. Louis, for some strange reason, will not play the Royals in the usual home-&-home interleague rivals setup.  The Cards make a trip to KC, but the Royals will not be coming to St. Louis who has just 15 instead of its normal 18 games vs. the AL.  In the NL Central, the Redbirds are even-Steven 9-9 with the Reds in terms of home/away numbers.  St. Louis has a 9-6 advantage over Houston and Milwaukee, with a 6-9 slight against the Cubs and Pirates.

Boston Red Sox  11/2
2009 record/finish:
95-67, 2nd in AL East
Departing: OF Jason Bay, RHP Ramon Ramirez, OF Rocco Baldelli
Arriving: 3B Adrian Beltre, OF Mike Cameron, RHP John Lackey, UTL Bill Hall, OF Jeremy Hermida; SS Marco Scutaro
2010 outlook: It's a bit misleading to look only at the arriving/departing lines above; in actuality you need to include the changes that took place in-season a year ago like John Smoltz, Brad Penny and Julio Lugo leaving with Victor Martinez coming aboard, and then start from there.

This is a deep staff, especially the rotation.  You've got six arms very capable of starting 97% of the games to choose from between Lackey, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka.  Assuming all are a go to start season, Buchholz is the most likely candidate to start outside the rotation then move in.  The bullpen isn't quite as deep as other seasons, and Jonathan Papelbon will have to 're-prove' himself to Red Sox Nation.  I suspect this is where some minor tweaking is done during exhibition play by GM wunderkind Theo Epstein.

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I'm not as quick to anoint Beltre as the new savior as others.  He could do some damage and make me eat those words a bit, but I think the bigger move was anchoring at short until mid-2011, if not before, when Jose Iglesias arrives.  J.D. Drew in right is a health concern as always, but Boston has Hermida in reserve with better overall outfield defense by shifting Ellsbury to left and bringing in Cameron.

Free MLB Pick: 99 wins, 1st in AL East

Chicago White Sox  30/1
2009 record/finish:
79-83, 3rd in AL Central
Departing: DH Jim Thome, OF Jermaine Dye, 2B Chris Getz, RHP DJ Carrasco
Arriving: OF Juan Pierre, 3B Mark Teahen, INF Omar Vizquel, RHP J.J. Putz
2010 outlook: I never get these guys right, except for when I pegged them to beat the Astros in the 2005 World Series.  What, you thought I'd go an entire article without plugging my beloved Astros?  Only reason I had that prediction right in '05 was my engrained cynicism growing up a fan of the Texas Aggies, Houston Oilers and Houston Colt .45s/Astros.

Mark BuehrleI like this team.  Biggest problem is the ChiSox are in a very volatile division.  The AL Central is the 'who knows?' group this year. What really piques my interest about this squad is a rotation that should be deep.  Maybe not Yankees deep, but I still like the potential of Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd.  If Putz is healed, I cant wait to watch Ozzie Gullen work these starters and pen.

The keys on offense are Alexei Ramirez and Teahen as the left half of the infield.  Lots of fingers pointing at Alexis Rios and the signing of Pierre in the outfield, but Ramirez, Teahen and the pitching staff are why I'm liking this team to win the division in the end.

Free MLB Pick: 89 wins, 1st in AL Central

Oakland Athletics  70/1
2009 record/finish
: 75-87, 4th in AL West
Departing: OF Scott Hairston, INF Adam Kennedy
Arriving: OF Coco Crisp, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, RHP Ben Sheets
2010 outlook: Hey, someone has to finish last in a division that should see some upheaval this spring.  In this case, it's the team that down-heaveled to the basement last season as well. It will take at least two other teams in the AL West to play under their paper value, plus several more in the East and Central divisions of the American League to play below theirs before Oakland can even be a wild card contender. I don't see it.

Comparisons are being drawn to their Bay Area counterparts in San Fran: All pitch, no hit.  That assuming that Sheets stays entirely healthy and the young arms all advance.  It could happen, but I'm not banking on it.

This club is also counting on young hitters to come of age at the same time.  Kouzmanoff, Cliff Pennington, Rajai Davis and Daric Barton are all blossoming talents, but expecting all to flower this season in the cavernous Coliseum is too much to ask.

Free MLB Pick: 72 wins, 4th in AL West

Part 4 of a 10-part series.  To check out what nonsense I've been spewing about other clubs, click the links below in a table listing Bodog futures odds to win the World Series as of Jan 13, 2010.

TEAM ODDS
Yankees 11/4
Red Sox 11/2
Phillies 11/2
Dodgers 12/1
Cardinals 13/1
Angels 14/1
Mets 15/1
Giants 16/1
Braves 18/1
Cubs 18/1
Rockies 18/1
Mariners 18/1
Rangers 20/1
Marlins 25/1
Twins 25/1
Tigers 27/1
Rays 27/1
White Sox 30/1
Brewers 40/1
Reds 45/1
Diamondbacks 50/1
Indians 60/1
Athletics 70/1
Astros 75/1
Royals 75/1
Padres 75/1
Orioles 100/1
Blue Jays 100/1
Pirates 125/1
Nationals 125/1