Lions around the dorm

Welcome back to Around The Dorm, where our best players can still finish the season with a torn ACL. This week, defending ATD champion Duncan Slobodzian, staff writer Justin Jez and Opinions Editor Michael O’Donnell pass judgment on the AL Central race, next week’s Steelers-Eagles contest and whether or not LeBron James can be a Yankees fan. Sports Assistant and part-time ninja warrior Bobby Olivier will ref.

1. The Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox are battling for the AL Central division. Who will come out on top and why?

JJ: It’s hard for me to say the White Sox will be playing in October, mainly because it would be too weird to see both Chicago teams in the playoffs. The universe might implode on itself. But I have to say, I really do think they’ll edge out the Twins. As of now, they are deadlocked with the Twins at the top of the division. They have a series with the disappointing Yankees and the dismal Royals, which should give them momentum going into their decisive three-game series with the Twins. I just don’t see Chicago coming out of those two series without a two- or three-game lead, putting all the pressure on the Twins. Also, in the event of a tiebreaker game, the White Sox would have home-field advantage. Neither team is playing well right now, so it very well might end in a tiebreaker, with the home team limping into the playoffs.

DS: As I write this, the Sox and Twins are tied atop the division with less than 20 games to play. The two teams look fairly equal on paper, and the three-game series in the Metrodome from Sept. 23-25 will go a long way in deciding the division crown. I’ll give the Twins the slight edge, but not just because they have home field in that late September series. The Twins have four starters who, while not overwhelming, have double-digit win totals. Pitcher Joe Nathan has been solid this year, boasting a 1.03 ERA and 36 saves in the closer role, and pitcher “Everyday” Eddie Guardado brings some veteran presence. Catcher Joe Mauer (.322, eight home runs, 73 RBIs) and first baseman Justin Morneau (.310, 23, 120) are the cogs in the Minnesota offensive wheel. Steady pitching from start to finish, coupled with timely hitting from young studs, should prove to be a winning formula for the twinkies.

MO: The White Sox will easily take that division. Minus the freak injury of left fielder and MVP candidate Carlos Quentin, who’s still leading the AL in home runs after two weeks on the DL, the Chi-Sox have several proven commodities on offense, including right fielder Jermaine Dye, designated hitter Jim Thome, center fielder Nick Swisher and right fielder Ken Griffey, Jr. The quartet has combined to lead the AL in home runs and stand at third in RBIs and slugging percentage. As far as pitching goes, the team is in the top half of the AL in ERA, walks and hits allowed, strikeouts and WHIP. Four Sox pitchers have 10 wins or more, and all but one are below the age of 30. Young hurlers John Danks and Gavin Floyd have breathed new life into an older franchise, while Mark Buehrle and Javier Vazquez have solidified the more-veteran presence of the staff. Besides, how can the no-name Twins stay in it anyway? Answer: They can’t.

BO: Duncan gets the 3 with good facts about the schedule and some good stats – don’t call them the twinkies ever again though. Jez gets the 2 for discussing the momentum swing and O’Donnell gets 1 for stat vomit.

2. Next Sunday, it’s a battle for Pennsylvania when the Steelers march to Philly to play the Eagles. Who ya got and why?

JJ: While both teams looked impressive in their openers, I’m going to have to take the Steelers. The Eagles were a questionable team coming into the season and benefited from a 38-3 stomping of the Rams. But what I took away from that game was the Rams are worse than people thought. I really doubt quarterback Donovan McNabb will be able to duplicate that kind of 350-plus yard, no-pick performance against a solid Pittsburgh defense. Pittsburgh’s win over the Texans was a little more impressive. Running back Willie Parker ran for 138 yards against a good defensive team. Also, the tandem of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Hines Ward seems to have the chemistry that led them to a Super Bowl title. We will definitely know more about the Eagles after they square off against the Cowboys this week, but my prediction after Week 1 is 27-14 Steelers.

DS: I’m going with the NFC team here: Eagles in a surprise double-digit win. Although the Birds looking impressive against a down-on-its-luck Rams defense doesn’t tell us too much about Philly’s makeup, they clearly have all the pieces in place to be a successful football team this season. They have plenty of weapons on offense (running back Brian Westbrook is a more versatile threat than Pittsburgh’s stable of running backs), and their young front seven complement their seasoned secondary nicely. Some are handicapping the Steelers as AFC favorites after Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady’s injury and San Diego and Indy’s lackluster Week 1. I’m still not sold on the Steelers, especially with the knowledge that Big Ben’s shoulder is bugging him early in the season. I think the Eagles will set the tone early and capitalize on the rabid home fan base to outscore the Steelers.

MO: The Steelers will come out on top. Since the defenses seem to be even, the reason lies in the offense. The Eagles have few weapons on offense, with rookie and unproven receivers trying to take the load off of overworked Westbrook’s back. The Steelers, on the other hand, have a wide array of weapons. Wide receivers Ward, Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington lead the receiving core, while rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall lightens the load for perennial All-Pro Parker. McNabb has certainly proven he is back in top form, but Big Ben has shown he is playing at as high a level. The Steelers just smoked a much-improved Texans’ defense in Week 1, while the Eagles romped the less-than-stellar Rams’ defense. This leaves a huge question mark for the Eagles: They’re good, but are they that good?

BO: Jez gets the 3 on this one for talking about the chemistry between Big Ben and Ward; I think that’s going to be the key. O’Donnell gets the 2 for mentioning Mendenhall, a guy no one is talking about. Duncan rounds out the round with the 1 for not making a strong enough argument.

3. LeBron James got some crap from Cleveland fans when he wore a Yankees hat to the Cowboys game last week, and Tom Brady has gotten crap for similar occurrences last year. Should stars of that magnitude be more careful with what they wear?

JJ: This is the first I’ve heard about this, so let me analyze this situation. LeBron (a basketball player) caught flack for wearing a Yankee hat (baseball) to a Cowboys game (football). Just who exactly had a problem with this? It had to have been those damn Red Sox fans from Cleveland. Honestly, this is absurd. LeBron, or any other professional athlete, should be allowed to wear whatever piece of sporting wear he chooses to a Cowboys game – well, almost anything. He should be prepared to defend himself if he wears Cowboys attire to a game in Cleveland. That’s just bad public relations in Cleveland. Otherwise, it really shouldn’t matter what he wears. A Yankees hat is more of a fashion statement than a declaration of fanhood anyway. Professional athletes should be treated like anyone else when it comes to their fashion choices while they are simply fans at a game.

DS: If you’re a celebrity of LeBron or Brady’s stature, you have to understand the paparazzi are going to find you when you’re in public. It’s their job, after all. I feel like those two guys are more New York (the city) fans than they are actual Yankees supporters. That said, the distinction is pretty transparent if you’re a devoted follower of Cleveland or Boston sports. You want your city’s superstars to care about the home front. Even if LeBron isn’t the biggest Browns fan in the world, what’s he got to gain by wearing a Yankees cap on field, under the watchful eye of the Dog Pound? Overall I would say yes, those kinds of guys should be more cognizant of what they’re wearing in public since the level of exposure is inarguably at an all-time high right now.

MO: This does not matter one bit. The only allegiance an athlete has is to his own team. Sure, athletes do community service and live in their towns at least part-time. And yes, the athlete is also a firm representation of the city he/she plays in. But does signing a contract to play for one team revoke the right to show their love for a team in a different sport? Absolutely not. Not one athlete is contractually obligated to root for a team in their city. If LeBron James likes the Yankees, then he likes the Yankees. Cleveland fans may not like it, but King James is not going to root for the Indians because the people want him to. Not one person on this planet is going to change team allegiances because someone else wants him to. Same goes for all professional athletes, and this is, in all seriousness, not a big deal at all.

BO: O’Donnell makes a good point about not signing a contract to root for certain teams and gets the 3. Jez gets the 2 for talking about fanhood and Duncan gets the 1 for questioning King James’ Yankee hat.

Jez wins his return bout 7-6-5