God, politicians drive me absolutely freakin' nuts

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OK, this is about politicians, but (a) it’s non-partisan; and (b) it’s also about baseball. It’s also a rant, so if you’re not into that sort of thing I’m sure Aaron will have something coming online in a few minutes that is calm and sober and reasoned and everything. With that out of the way . . .

I live in Ohio, and it’s a gubernatorial election year here. The incumbent is Ted Strickland, a Democrat. The challenger is John Kasich, a Republican. While they obviously differ on policies in the ways you might expect, we have a rare situation in this race in that both of these guys are generally thought of as nice, reasoned, educated, and decent men. Unlike the increasingly popular political style of the day, they tend to spend their time in the arena of facts and logic and policy and stuff and don’t let emotion or craven careerism dictate their positions. It’s kind of refreshing!

Except I’ll be damned if they aren’t both out to lunch when it comes to choosing the best baseball player of all time. Which they did in one of those silly little polls newspapers run from time to time about what a candidate’s favorite ice cream is and such.  Strickland’s answer to the “who was the best baseball player ever” question: Cal Ripken Jr. Kasich’s: Roberto Clemente. Which is so obviously nuts I don’t even have to explain why it’s nuts.

And I’d let it go if I didn’t suspect that something other than baseball ignorance was afoot. No, I smell calculation.  I smell Strickland trying to message the concept of perseverance, of keeping going no matter what faces you in the Ripken choice, thinking that it’s a smart move for a guy trying to keep his job despite a budget crunch and the state’s economy being in the toilet.  I smell Kasich going with Clemente as a means of messaging “charity” and — maybe — diversity, which would be useful for a guy who needs to move a bit towards the middle in order to secure the election.

Am I reading too much into this? Possibly! I’ve been doing it all day!  But man, I’ve met and talked to both Kasich and Strickland and I find it hard to believe that if you asked them point blank, either of them would say Ripken or Clemente. Even if they were total baseball ignoramuses I’d figure they’d say Babe Ruth or Willie Mays or something because — setting aside the fact that those would both be great answers — they’re way more well-known names.  Ignorance actually helps you with this question! And if they know a little about baseball then they know that the answers they actually gave are dumb.

And you know what else? Even if this is political calculation, it’s dumb political calculation!  Kasich is a Republican, and Republicans have a hard damn time getting votes in northeast Ohio. Go with Bob Feller or Rocky Colaovito! They’re just as bad an answer as Clemente, but at least there’s a percentage in it! People in Cleveland hate Pittsburgh! Likewise for Strickland, who will be hard pressed to get votes in southwest Ohio: Go with Pete Rose! They love Pete down there! You might push someone into voting for you!  If you’re going to be political animal at least do it right!  And people wonder why I left state government!

Now, will the three of you who haven’t stopped reading because I’m a freakin’ moonbat please direct me to my medication?  Thanks.

Kevin Gausman to start Opening Day for the Orioles

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The Orioles have tabbed Kevin Gausman to start on Opening Day, April 3 against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports. Chris Tillman started the previous three Opening Days for the O’s. This will be Gausman’s first Opening Day nod.

Gausman, 26, finished the 2016 season with a 3.61 ERA and a 174/47 K/BB ratio in 179 2/3 innings. The Orioles selected him in the first round (fourth overall) of the 2012 draft and moved him through their minor league system quickly. Gausman debuted in the majors in May 2013.

2017 Preview: Detroit Tigers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Detroit Tigers.

I feel like every year, for the past several years, our Tigers preview has been some variation of “do the Tigers still have a run left in them with the Cabrera-Verlander core?”

If you’re tired of reading that one I have some bad news for you: it’s the same dang story this year as it has been every year. A great pitcher and a great hitter, a very solid supporting cast, a handful of holes that could be critical weaknesses and enough to make them look strong enough to contend but not enough to contend strongly, if that makes any sense.

Let’s start with the pitching. Justin Verlander returned to Cy Young-caliber form in 2016, thanks mostly to health and a big, big leap in his strikeout rate, suggesting that it was health and not an overall decline which harmed him in 2014 and 2015. He’ll lead the way again, followed by Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer, who was a wonderful surprise last season. The back end of the rotation is problematic, however, with Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez stinking up the joint for most of last year and young Daniel Norris suffering through injuries. For the Tigers to contend, they’ll need at least one of those veterans to return to their old form — or someone like Matt Boyd or Mike Pelfrey to, well, not be Matt Boyd and Mike Pelfrey– and for Norris to be healthy.

Fine, let’s say Verlander and Fulmer repeat their 2016 success and say that Norris is a strong, healthy and effective number three. Who then does Brad Ausmus turn the ball over to in the late innings? If you think the overall take on the Tigers is rehashed from year to year, well, the same goes for the pen. It, as always, is a liability in Detroit. And it’s not going to be terribly different than it was last year. Francisco Rodriguez will close. A couple of Wilsons in Alex and Justin. Shane Greene. Maybe one of the veteran starters who doesn’t make the rotation. The always interesting Bruce Rondon. It’s not terrible but it’s not the strongest bunch in the world and it’s being handled by a guy in Ausmus who has yet to show that he can get the most out of a less-than-steller relief corps. You can Google the phrase “Tigers bullpen woes” and find results from every season for most of the past decade. You’ll probably be able to do it again this year.

The offense, of course, is fantastic, at least at the top end. Miguel Cabrera is still an MVP-caliber player and even when his decline begins he’ll be better than almost any hitter in the game. Ian Kinsler is still low-key excellent. Nick Castellanos took a big leap forward last year. J.D. Martinez is going to miss the first month or so of the season with a sprained ligament in his foot, but he’s in his walk year and will likely be fine once he returns. Justin Upton has always been super uneven and has always failed to meet the insane expectations he set early in his career, but as he showed late last season, he’s capable of carrying a team for a stretch. I’ve been saying it for a pushing a decade, but one of these years he’s going to put it all together.

The big question is going to be the bottom third of the lineup where catcher James McCann, shortstop Jose Iglesias and center fielder Tyler Collins all look to be offensive liabilities at the moment. A bigger than usual year from any of them could help matters greatly.

Of course all of this — the strong lineup with critical holes, the rotation that starts well but has question marks and the spotty bullpen — has been the Tigers story for years. It’s a story that could end happily with 85-90 wins, a playoff spot and a bunch of seasoned veterans getting hot at the right time and riding it to glory. It could just as easily get sprinkled with a slow start or a few injuries and result in a 75-80 win season like they had back in 2015.

In the past, that would lead to yet another “wait until next year.” This year, however, you get the strong sense that there is no next year if this year is disappointing. There was talk that the Tigers could sell off veteran parts this past winter, but they didn’t. Then longtime owner Mike Ilitch, who was seen as a man who pushed to win now despite the costs, passed away in February. It’s not hard to imagine his son giving different instructions to GM Al Avila if the Tigers don’t get off to a fast start this year. It’s not hard to imagine the great unwinding of the core that has kept this Tigers team in contention for so long if 2017 is a disappointment.

I’m still optimistic, though. The Indians are the class of the division but the Royals are likely taking a step back and the Twins and White Sox are not yet a threat. I won’t predict October glory for them, but I think, barring major injuries to key players, the Tigers will be playing meaningful baseball in September.

Prediction: Second place, American League Central