Here is my very amateur preview at the upcoming Major League Baseball season, starting with the American League. Agree? Disagree? Please comment!
*Order of teams are their predicted finishes in the division*
1) BOSTON RED SOX: Call me crazy but I see the Sox bouncing back in a big way from their epic September collapse of last season. If Carl Crawford plays the way he should, and is paid, he will form a monster speed combination with Jacoby Ellsbury (.321, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 39 SB last year!). Much of the season will hinge on Daniel Bard’s addition to the rotation, how well Clay Buchholz comes back from injury, and how Andrew Bailey (24 SV, 3.34 ERA) adjusts to closing for a contender. If Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez, and Ortiz combine for 109 HR’s again like last season, it could be a good year at Fenway.
2) TAMPA BAY RAYS: No manager seems to fit his club as well as Joe Maddon does with this youthful Rays club. I am concerned with how much pressure is being put on SP Matt Moore heading into the season, but everything I’ve read says he is the real deal. The Rays use their youth and energy to their advantage against the veteran Boston and New York clubs in the always-tough East and do not back down from any challenges. LF Desmond Jennings is a key, he batted .259 with 20 steals along with decent pop (10 HR) in about half a season last year. If BJ Upton and Carlos Pena can keep from striking out so much and the bullpen holds together, expect the Rays to make the playoffs.
3) NEW YORK YANKEES: The Yankees are a veteran team, and by that, I mean that they are old. AARP old. Their closer and left side of their infield is a combined 115 years old! New York still has plenty of talent, especially considering the fact that Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeria are all in the primes right now. I still don’t think that they can withstand injuries to any of those players or their a member or two of their starting rotation in this ultra-tough division. Someday Mariano Rivera will no longer pitch and CC Sabathia’s weight will catch up with him…. right?
4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS: The Blue Jays are a good team that are stuck in a great division. They have some solid pieces in place: Leadoff hitter: Yunel Escobar (.369 OBP, 48 RBI’s last year), Cleanup: Jose Bautista (43 bombs, 103 RBI’s), Staff Ace: Ricky Romero (15 wins, 2.92 ERA); but they will continue to get beat up in division games again New York, Tampa, and Boston and finishing at .500 wont get them close to the AL East crown.
5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES: Combine a crazy-intense division stocked with excellent hitters with the Orioles weak pitching staff and you will see why Baltimore will continue to dwell in the cellar of the AL East. There is a reason that the Orioles have finished sub .500 for 14 straight seasons. They do have a number of exciting offensive players though, (67 home runs between Mark Reynolds and JJ Hardy last season) so along with their beautiful ballpark they should still be fun to go watch in person. Not that I would know. I do bet the Twins would take Hardy and his 30 homers last season back over the Nishioka fiasco of 2011.
1) DETROIT TIGERS: With all the hoopla surrounding the Tigers this offseason, a certain Denny Green press conference comes to mind. Should we just crown their a** already? Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder will obviously make for a scary 3-4 punch in the middle of the lineup, but they will also make for a scary set of corner outfielders on defense. If the bats fall silent, as even the best tend to do, there will be plenty of pressure on Justin Verlander (24-5, 0.92 WHIP) and the rest of the rotation to pick up the slack. Detroit is by no means loaded with All-Stars so Cabrera, Fielder, and Verlander need to stay healthy in order for them to conquer the weak central.
2) KANSAS CITY ROYALS: After nearly two decades of futility, the future is finally bright for KC as they are loaded with young talent both on the major league club and in their farm system. Their lineup sports the youngest average age in the AL. The Royals have got to be excited about Alex Gordon finally emerging as the star he was forecast to be. The decade ahead could be really good for Royals fans; I predict they finish above .500 this season.
3) CLEVELAND INDIANS: The Indians are not particularly flashy at any certain position, but they surpassed most expectations last season and there is no reason to think they wont be a decent .500 team once again. Hard to believe this club played for an AL pennant just over a half-decade ago and has lost CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee during that time. Just think if they could have afforded to keep that left-handed starting duo. Yikes!
4) CHICAGO WHITE SOX: The White Sox are a veteran team and aging fast. I have not been a fan of the moves Kenny Williams has made in recent years, but then again, I also didn’t think Adam Dunn would completely tank (.159 BA, 11 HR, 177 strikeouts) and Jake Peavy (7-7 4.92 ERA) would find such a liking to the DL. If Dunn and Alex Rios starting mashing the ball like Paul Konerko (31 HR, 105 RBI’s last year), then this could be an extremely potent lineup. And seriously, did anybody anywhere really see Phil Humber (9-9 3.75 ERA) out-pitching Peavy in the Sox rotation a year ago? Didn’t think so.
5) MINNESOTA TWINS: As much as this pains me as a die-hard Twins fan, I just can’t envision a scenario in which the Twins finish better than 3rd in the central at the very best. Joe Mauer is making 23 million/year to slap singles, Justin Morneau is a shell of his former self, the defense and “Twins Baseball” of years past seems long gone and the rotation is filled with back-end options that are injury-prone. More on the Twinkies in a separate preview later.
1) LOS ANGELES ANGELS: Not only do the Angels add Albert Pujols (.299 BA, 37 HR, 99 RBI in an “off” year), but they also get Kendrys Morales back from his broken leg suffered in 2010. Morales was batting .290 with 11 HR in late spring when he injured his leg after a walk-off homer and now if healthy, he gets to possibly bat behind Pujols. With a rotation that adds CJ Wilson, that makes three pitchers who won at least 16 games a year ago and four starters with an ERA of 3.38 or under last season. If Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells contribute and Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick can set the table for Pujols… look out!
2) TEXAS RANGERS: Well, the defending AL champs lost CJ Wilson to the rival Angels but added Japanese phenom Yu Darvish. Darvish faces quite the tall order of anchoring the rotation as a MLB transplant. It should be interesting to see how Joe Nathan fares in the closer role but he pitched very well for Minnesota in the second half of last season. Even if Nathan falters, the Rangers have Mike Adams and/or Koji Uehara as right-handed bullpen options. All eyes will be on Josh Hamilton in his contract year. I see Texas finishing a strong second in the West and making the playoffs as a wildcard.
3) SEATTLE MARINERS: The M’s are a team that need to figure out what they are doing, and quickly. Felix Hernandez is wasting away in his prime (14-14 3.47 ERA last year) while Ichiro Suzuki (.272 BA, first season that he didn’t reach 200 hits) only has so much gas left in the tank. Hisashi Iwakuma comes over from Japan to join a rotation that needs Jason Varas and Kevin Millwood to post solid injury-free seasons to remain competitive with the Angels and Rangers. The Mariners definitely cannot afford to see Chone Figgins continue to struggle (.188 BA, .241 OBP last year).
4) OAKLAND ATHLETICS: Oakland has a decent set of building blocks in their lineup, but they also make baffling moves such as jettisoning closer Andrew Bailey and starters Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez while adding Manny Ramirez as a free agent. The lineup definitely needs to improve throughout, so hopefully the players acquired in the previously mentioned trades make eventual impacts on the lineup and pitching staff. For now, the A’s are doing the concept of “Moneyball” no favors.
Wildcard Teams: Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers