The Cubs are playing AL Central teams this year. Well, except for the Indians. And the Royals, who they played last year when they were matched up with the AL East. And the Red Sox will be an interleague opponent for the second year in a row.
This will all be solved in 2013 when the Astros move to the AL and we have two 15-team leagues with three five-team divisions each. Except you still will have "rivalry" games with certain interleague matchups like Cubs/White Sox, Mets/Yankees, Angels/Dodgers... except for teams that don't have a rivalry like that.
Thanks, Bud, for making this mess. Onward past the jump for the Cubs' four American League opponents in 2012.
Boston Red Sox. 2011: third place, AL East, 90-72. If one were a person like this, one might have the sneaking suspicion that the Cubs lobbied hard to have the Red Sox come to Wrigley Field so they could have a sold-out weekend like they had for the Yankee series in 2011. Or so that Theo Epstein could see some of his old Boston buddies without having to fly out east.
Hrm. (To be fair, the schedule was set long before Theo was hired.)
Anyway, the Red Sox, like the Cubs, have new management top to bottom. They also have a new closer, after Jonathan Papelbon's spectacular blown save on the last day of 2011 cost Boston a shot at a wild-card tiebreaking game with the Rays. Andrew Bailey was acquired from Oakland to replace him The Red Sox also have a new shortstop (Mike Aviles), a new catcher (Jarrod Saltalamacchia, perhaps sharing time with Kelly Shoppach) and are without longtime veterans Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, who are both retired.
Otherwise it's the same angst-filled group as always. I'd expect fewer Boston fans at Wrigley than were there in 2005; it's a bit different when your team is the defending World Series champion as compared to coming off a spectacular collapse. (Also, bleacher tickets for the Red Sox series in '05 cost $38 -- less than half the $81 season-ticket price this year.)
Chicago White Sox. 2011: third place, AL Central, 79-83. Adam Dunn used to launch baseballs out of Wrigley Field with frightening regularity; he's hit 25 home runs there, more than any active player whose name is not "Pujols".
Last year, Dunn was 0-for-8 with four strikeouts at Wrigley (and 0-for-16 against the Cubs overall) on his way to a historically bad season. That was a symbol of the White Sox' year, which was filled with conflict between players, coaches and players, and resulted in Ozzie Guillen leaving as manager.
How will Robin Ventura be as a manager? No one knows, because he has zero coaching experience. It's another inscrutable Kenny Williams move. It could work. It could fail.
The White Sox hope that Dunn (and Alex Rios, who was also awful last year) will recover their previous ability levels. If they do, the Sox could actually be good, since they have a solid starting rotation and decent bullpen.
If not, look for the finger-pointing to start on the South Side.
Detroit Tigers. 2011: first place, AL Central, 95-67. Wow. The Tigers were already a 95-win team with the best pitcher in the American League, a solid closer and a MVP candidate in Miguel Cabrera.
To that they have added Prince Fielder, for a very, very long time. It remains to be seen how Comerica Park, a hitter's graveyard, will affect Fielder's power.
It also remains to be seen whether Cabrera, who has not played third base in four years, will react to a return to his former position. If he's even adequate there, the Tigers will score buckets and buckets and buckets of runs and prevent runs with the best of 'em. They could easily win 100 or more games this year, and Wrigley Field could well be overrun by Tigers fans during the mid-June series.
Minnesota Twins. 2011: fifth place, AL Central, 63-99. Speaking of overrunning Wrigley Field, in 2009 when the Twins were last at Wrigley, there were thousands of Minnesotans in attendance, to see a team that was a perennial contender and a MVP candidate in Joe Mauer.
The Twins collapsed in 2011 from a division titlist to a 99-loss team that had lost Mauer to various injuries for much of the season, not to mention having Justin Morneau still suffering the aftereffects of a 2010 concussion. It remains to be seen whether either of those players can come back to his previous performance level.
If they do, the Twins could actually be a surprise team in the AL Central. Their pitching staff is iffy, true, but if they are healthy and can figure out how to hit in spacious Target Field -- something they haven't done so far -- they can return to respectability. Their manager, Ron Gardenhire, is one of the best in the business.
I expect Cubs fans will return the favor of the 2009 Chicago visit by Twins fans and pack Target Field for the first-ever Cubs visit there. The last time a Cubs team visited Minnesota in 2006, the Cubs were awful and the Twins were on their way to a 96-66 season, their fourth playoff year in five; the Cubs got swept and outscored 18-3.
Somehow, I don't think this year's Cubs/Twins results will be the same.