I promised that I would also break down and predict the American League, and I try not to disappoint. Without any further witty quips, or cleverly phrased A-Rod jokes, here they are:
Winner: New York Yankees- Much is being made of the whole A-Rod ordeal. Many are wondering if he can handle this new pressure to perform. Read my keyboard: YES. Fans having been finding reasons to lambaste A-Rod since he became a Yankee. He’s been the most heavily scrutinized player in the league over the past 5 seasons, and guess what? He’s won 2 MVPs in that span. Last season was an off-year by A-Rod’s standards and he still put up .302/ 35/ 103. A-Rod will be just fine. So will Sabathia. And Teixeira. And Burnett. And Rivera. And Jeter. Pencil in Wang for 15-18 wins also. They spend money, but they have purchased a winner here, the Yankees are the clear AL favorites and I’m not here to tell you otherwise.
Just missed: Boston Red Sox- Theo was probably squirming in his chair every time he received news of the Yankees latest signing. To his credit, he’s probably also grinning from ear to ear watching “Manny being Manny” in someone else’s clubhouse. All that aside, the Sox are still a very solid team. It’s all about pitching in Beantown. Josh Beckett, Daisuke, and Jon Lester are all outstanding starters. And, come July, throw John Smoltz into that mix. Just imagine if Brad Penny gets and stays healthy. The lineup is still plenty potent, with Big Papi anchoring in the middle and reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia, and I see the Sox finishing just behind the Yanks, which pains me to say because of the…
Tampa Bay Rays- Their Cinderella story of last season was felt by everyone in the baseball world. Unfortunately, the glass slipper is just a little too small this season because the evil step sisters (see above) are meaner than ever. I love what the Rays did, but it took breakout seasons from too many players. They will be good again this year, but a drop-off has to be expected. Evan Longoria and BJ Upton are the real deal, and Carlos Pena and Pat Burrell (who’s signing I thought was perfect for this team) will contribute their share of runs offensively. However, there are durability and depth questions for this team, and in a division with the Sox and Yanks, they can’t afford any missteps his season. Unfortunately, I think they will have a few.
Outside Chance: Baltimore Orioles- Hear me out on this one. The Orioles are quietly building a contender over in Baltimore. Nick Markakis may be the most underrated player in the sport. Their lineup is pretty good already, and Matt Wieters is on the way to aid that cause. This team just doesn’t have the pitching to compete right now, but they have a lot of young players who could really help this team, especially Adam Jones. If they somehow put everything all together, this team has a shot, but they’re just victims of playing in the AL East. Give them a year or two, and we could have AL East Upset Part 2.
Toronto Blue Jays- Toronto is one of the most loaded teams in the league when it comes to young pitching. Not to mention they still have Roy Halladay at the top, Alex Rios and Vernon Wells in the order, and BJ Ryan at the back end of the 'pen. This is a pretty good team, but they’re not as good as the top 3. The Blue Jays, like the Orioles, are headed in the right direction, but haven’t done enough to get over the hump that is the Sox/Rays/Yankees.
Winner: Minnesota Twins- The Twins have to be one of the most well-run franchises in Major League baseball. They are always brining up great talent through the farm system, yet they don’t have to spend like the AL East teams. I see them being heavily competitive this season and like them to take the Central. The only reason I can to see to question the Twins is their rotation. There is a ton of talent from top to bottom and I see big years for Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker. But, these are young pitchers and there could be growing pains. The lineup still features former MVP Justin Morneau, and Joe Mauer is one of the best hitters in the AL. Oh, yeah, and there is still that force named Joe Nathan just waiting for 9<sup>th</sup> inning leads. I like the Twins just barely to edge out the…
Just Missed: Cleveland Indians- This team definitely has a lot to look forward to this year after last year’s awful start. Cliff Lee is coming off a CY Young season, Fausto Carmona is establishing himself as a potential ace for this rotation and I love the pickup last season of Anthony Reyes. Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez are all top-tier players at their positions. So why do I have them missing the playoffs? The Indians have huge injury concerns this year, just like every team, but almost the entire team is coming off of a down season and I don’t see Cliff Lee replicating ’08. The Indians will be good this season, but trying to keep Pronk, Martinez, and Carmona healthy will be paramount this year. If they are, then I like the Indians in the Central, but I just can’t see that.
Detroit Tigers- I really don’t like putting the Tigers in this category because there are plenty of question marks here. But, the Tigers really embody what the top of the AL Central is about this year. Lots of questions, lots of talent. The lineup that sports writers fell in love with last year is still largely intact. Placido Polanco, Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, and Curtis Granderson are all great offensive players, and certainly the Tigers will score some runs this year. But can they stop them? Justin Verlander took a step back last year, like most Tigers, so I look for him to rebound. I’m not wowed by Jeremy Bonderman, Edwin Jackson, or Dontrelle Willis, but all still retain potential. Their season hinges on that rotation’s performance.
Chicago White Sox- The White Sox are the fourth team in my eyes who could end up winning this division. Although I think this team has fewer question marks, they also have less overall talent as well. That’s not to say that this team doesn’t have some great players. John Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Mark Buehrle are a formidable trio atop the rotation. Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez emerged last season so I expect them to suffer slight drop-offs, but both should still be very effective. Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko are on the down slope, so I’m not sure they can carry this team anymore. If the White Sox can get production from the players around Konerko and Dye and take the pressure off, then this team has as good a shot as any.
Outside Chance: None
Maybe Next Year: Kansas City Royals- I like what the Royals are doing, but this team just isn’t ready to contend yet. Zack Greinke got the contract he deserved, Alex Gordon will definitely be a star in time, and Joakim Soria is the real deal. This team just doesn’t have a whole lot of depth, and not much power throughout this order. I almost created a new category because I don’t think they’ll be ready next year, but I also don’t see it taking 5 years either. Give this team 2 years if they continue to build as they are, and they will be competing for a division title.
Winner: Los Angeles Angels – The cream of the AL West crop. Other than the Cubs, they may have the easiest time winning their division. Losing Mark Teixeira hurts, but the pitching is still in place here. Joe Saunders, John Lackey and Ervin Santana all have top-of-the-rotation stuff, and should win a ton of games this year beating up on the rest of the division. Offensively, this outfield can flat-out rake. Vlad Guerrero, and Torii Hunter are headed downward, but will still put up numbers this year, and Juan Rivera is underrated and should benefit hitting in this batting order. The Bobby Abreu signing was huge because it allows their aging outfield to rotate as the DH to stay healthier. Brian Fuentes is no K-Rod, but he is a serviceable closer that will do the job that the Angels need him to, and if he can’t, Jose Arredondo is waiting in the wings.
Just Missed: None
Outside Chance: Texas Rangers- When I say outside chance, I really mean outside chance. Josh Hamilton is one of the best outfielders in baseball, no doubt. And the Rangers actually will put a very good lineup out there. Ian Kinsler and Michael Young can still hit, and I actually endorse moving Young over to third. Also, their catching depth is hard not to love. Problem is, Kevin Millwood and Vincente Padilla are not a strong 1-2 punch. Their bullpen should perform well; CJ Wilson and Frank Francisco aren’t bad options at the back-end, although neither is dominating. They need the Angels to completely fall apart to have a real shot at the title.
Maybe Next Year: Oakland Athletics- The A’s went out and got Matt Holliday, which was a great pickup since they didn’t give up too much, but there’s not much around him. Bobby Crosby has been very disappointing, as was Daric Barton last year, although I see him bouncing back. Duchscherer is a solid player, but injury prone. There’s not a whole lot behind him in the rotation, either. The bullpen lacks a dominant closer, and that could be a factor for the few games that they have a lead.
Maybe 5 Years From Now…: Seattle Mariners- The only AL team that I put in this category, the Mariners are a mess. Erik Bedard busted big time last year, so they’ll need a rebound just to make that trade look respectable. Felix Hernandez can be dominating but must deal with his inconsistency and injury history. Ichiro is still Ichiro, albeit with a lower average. You have to give the Mariners PR department credit, though. They found out Griffey had interest from other teams, and went out and got him back into a Mariners uniform. At least they’ll sell some tickets.
AL East: New York Yankees
AL Central: Minnesota Twins
AL West: Los Angeles Angels
AL Wild Card: Boston Red Sox
Yankees over Twins
Angels over Sox
AL Champion: Los Angeles Angels
I like the Mets to win the 2009 World Series in 5 games.