Last year I picked the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series. So consider that before putting any relevance on this writeup. So now that you are warned, let’s get this on.
1) Boston – I think the Red Sox are pretty solid all around. They can run with Ellsbury and Pedroia, hit for average, hit for power and have a good rotation with perhaps the league’s best closer in Jonathan Papelbon. If Brad Penny has a comeback year and David Ortiz can stay consistent, this will be the best team in the division.
2) Tampa Bay – I kind of think the Rays are due for a little bit of a step backward, as they are still young. But its hard to dismiss a team with the young talent that Tampa does. If Scott Kazmir can stay healthy throughout the year, he’ll be a darkhorse for the Cy Young.
3) N.Y. Yankees – It was tough putting these guys in third. However, it will be interesting to see if the A-Rod roid situation detracts from them and whether Derek Jeter stays at shortstop the entire season. Also, it wouldn’t shock me if A.J. Burnett – who isn’t known for his consistency or durability – pulls a Carl Pavano. Then again, these guys could jell and win 102 games or something.
4) Toronto – The Jays don’t have much power in their lineup and their rotation is pretty ravaged by injury. Of course Roy Halladay will be good for seven complete games and 18-plus wins, but it doesn’t seem like he’ll have much help.
5) Baltimore – Expect the Orioles to improve a bit this year. They have some really good young hitting talent in Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters and Adam Jones. However, I still have no clue if their pitching is capable of doing anything.
1) Cleveland – I’m trying this one again. The Indians may not have C.C. Sabathia, but the odds of Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez being injured for another season is pretty low. Grady Sizemore is the perfect table setter and Cliff Lee is probably the best pitcher in the division. And you know the Indians seem to have young talent coming up constantly.
2) Minnesota – The Twins were a surprise last season, as a young, anonymous pitching staff was pretty outstanding while Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer lead a somewhat unappreciated lineup. If Minnesota can get a full, productive year out of Francisco Liriano, they could easily win the division.
3) Detroit – Maybe a bit of a homer pick, but I see the Tiger lineup being a little more consistent this year. The pitching staff is still a question mark, but the odds of Justin Verlander dropping 17 games again are pretty low. If the bullpen stabilizes and the starters stay somewhat healthy, the Tigres are a darkhorse.
4) Kansas City – Slowly but surely, the Royals seem to be improving. Zack Greinke and Gil Meche are a solid 1-2 punch in the starting rotation and Joakim Soria was quietly one of the best closers in baseball last year. If some of the young bats, namely Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, break out, K.C. could be quite pesky.
5) Chicago – The White Sox have an aging lineup and their rotation isn’t exactly tip-top. Plus closer Bobby Jenks seems to have lost a lot of his velocity. I guess Chicago will still pound a bit and Alexei Ramirez is a big young bat while Jon Danks is a good young pitcher, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this team tanks a bit.
1) L.A. Angels – Another year, another Angel division title. I don’t really see any way the Angels don’t roll in this division. Even with John Lackey and Ervin Santana on the DL early, the Angels still have an abundance of pitching and Bobby Abreu, while 35, gives the Angels another productive bat in the middle of the order. The big question for LA is the closer position, as Brian Fuentes and Jose Arrendondo vie to replace K-Rod.
2) Oakland – I’m not exactly sure if the A’s are good at all, but Billy Beane tends to put together pretty decent talent. An anemic lineup gets a big shot in the arm with Matt Holliday and even a little one from Jason Giambi, while a rotation is high on talent but short on experience. A little more hitting could go a long way for Oakland.
3) Texas – Different year, same basic formula for the Rangers. Texas will hit the cover off the ball with Josh Hamilton and friends, but they still will have a hard time getting anyone out consistenly. Why the Rangers refuse to keep pitching in their organization (see Edinson Volquez and Chris Young) is beyond me.
4) Seattle – Ken Griffey Jr. is back in the Pacific Northwest. Too bad he’s almost 40. The Mariners have old stars in Griffey and Ichiro to bring fans and a young star pitcher in Felix Hernandez, but not much else. If Erik Bedard comes back and is productive, Seattle will pass the Rangers.
1) N.Y. Mets – Yes, this is finally the year the Mets figure out how to hold on in September. With David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana and Francisco Rodriguez, there’s no reason for the Mets to miss the playoffs again. If Aaron Pelfrey emerges in the rotation, J.J. Putz locks down the setup role and Carlos Delgado stays spry, New York can’t miss
2) Philadelphia – The Phillies were a quietly effective World Series champion but they certainly have staying power. Philly boasts a powerful triumvirate of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the starting lineup, an ace in Cole Hamels and a reborn power closer in Brad Lidge. If the Shane Victorinos and Joe Blantons continue to play solid ball, Philly will be heard from.
3) Atlanta – The Braves improved their rotation quite a bit with the acquisition of Derek Lowe and should get a nice bounceback from players such as Jeff Francoeur. Last year was the worst Atlanta performance since 1990 and I’d expect an improvement – though I think a playoff berth is too much to ask at this juncture.
4) Florida – The Marlins should be plucky, especially if Josh Johnson can stay healthy and assist Ricky Nolasco at the top of the starting rotation. Florida might have the best all-around player in baseball in Hanley Ramirez and another slugger in second baseman Dan Uggla. Don’t be surprised if Florida hangs around.
5) Washington – Well, at least the Nationals signed Adam Dunn. That’s about the only good thing I can say for them, and even I have no idea if that’s actually a good thing. Ryan Zimmerman should bounce back a bit, but Washington still has no real pitching to speak of.
1) Chicago – The Cubs killed everyone in the regular season, only to get killed by the Dodgers in the playoffs. Chicago should hit a ton with Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez and have a decent pitching staff. However, whether the Cubs are real World Series contenders will depend on Carlos Zambrano’s consistency and a good closer, be it Kevin Gregg or Carlos Marmol.
2) Milwaukee – The Brewers will lose a lot of their pitching clout, as C.C. Sabathia moved to the Bronx while Ben Sheets is battling injury. But Milwaukee might have the most powerful lineup in the NL with Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and J.J. Hardy. If Yovani Gallardo stays healthy in the rotation and the bullpen is solidfied on the back end, maybe the Brewers contend for the wild card.
3) St. Louis – The Cardinals overachieved for the first half of last year before running out of gas in the second half. I’d expect to see a more consistent St. Louis team and another winning season. Albert Pujols is obviously a stud, but can Ryan Ludwick follow up his out-of-nowhere monster year? And who will the Cardinals have to close out games? Positive answers to those may shoot the Cards up the standings.
4) Houston – The Astros are basically the Rangers South at this point. They have plenty of guys who can rake, led by first baseman Lance Berkman and outfielder Carlos Lee, but have no real good starting pitchers besides Roy Oswalt. The hope is that Pudge Rodriguez can help the starters and that Jose Valverde can continue his success.
5) Cincinnati – The Reds will have young hitters with scads of potential in the form of Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, but very little pitching outside of Edinson Volquez. It’s absolutely necessary for Aaron Harang to bounce back after a disastrous 2008 if the Reds plan on making any noise.
6) Pittsburgh – The Pirates have had 16 losing season in a row. A 17th would set an American professional sports record. It looks almost guaranteed to happen, as Pittsburgh seems unable to establish any sort of consistent groove in its rotation. The lineup, while OK, won’t have enough pop to compensate for the pitching.
1) L.A. Dodgers – The Dodgers exploded once Manny Ramirez came over in the trade with Boston and won their first playoff series in 20 years. They should have a chance to get another one, as L.A. has a pretty deep lineup and some good pitching at the top of the rotation. How the Dodgers compensate for the loss of Derek Lowe and how Jonathan Broxton handles being the closer from Day 1 are questions that need to be answered.
2) San Francisco – With Randy Johnson added to Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, the Giants have a pretty formidable top 3 in the pitching rotation. If Barry Zito wakes up and rediscovers his curveball, SF will be a tough team to face. They’ll need to be, as the hitting won’t be anything special. When Bengie Molina is your big threat, that’s not a good thing.
3) Arizona – The D-Backs’ top of the rotation should be sweet with Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, but who knows after that. There is a lot of hope for Max Scherzer to emerge and if he does, Arizona could be a surprise division winner. The hitting is nothing particularly special, though most of the lineup is still pretty young.
4) Colorado – The 2007 World Series seems like a long time ago for the Rockies, as last year was rough. Troy Tulowitzki should be back to his ’07 form, but Todd Helton looks about done and Matt Holliday was shipped to Oakland. As usual for Colorado, the pitching is pretty iffy.
5) San Diego – The Padres could be the worst team in baseball. Jake Peavy seems to be the only pitcher of note, as Chris Young is struggling mightily in spring training, while the lineup, except for Adrian Gonzalez, is pretty awful. And they don’t even have Trevor Hoffman anymore.
Wild Cards: Tampa Bay (AL), Philadelphia (NL)
Division series: Boston over Cleveland (AL), Tampa Bay over L.A. Angels (AL), Chicago over Philadelphia (NL), N.Y. Mets over L.A. Dodgers (NL).
League championship series: Boston over Tampa Bay (AL), N.Y. Mets over Chicago (NL)
World Series: N.Y. Mets over Boston