As we approach the beginning of the season, I've decided to take a look around each of the three American League divisions and give my predictions on how I think things will shake out and why. This is how I see each team finishing in their division, and what record I project they will finish the year with.
1. Los Angeles Angels 92-70
In a division loaded with hitting and not much pitching, the thing that might end up putting the Angels on top is the fact that they are the only team with a completely reliable closer. It's hard to pick against 2004 AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero, and he is surrounded with a nice mixture of power and speed from guys like Garret Anderson and Chone Figgins. Rookie of the Year candidate Dallas McPherson must step up and produce at third base in replacement of Troy Glaus. The pitching rotation is not particularly good, led by underachievers Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Washburn, but the bullpen should be good enough for them to close out games against the worse pitching elsewhere in the West.
2. Seattle Mariners 79-83
The additions of Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson should considerably improve last year's anemic offense. If Sexson rebounds and stays healthy all year and Beltre reproduces some semblance of the season he put together in 2004, the Mariners are downright deadly 1-5 in the order. Unfortunately, the bottom part of the order could potentially be very weak. The pitching rotation is depending far too much on Jamie Moyer to continue to get batters out at age 70 and Joel Pineiro to finally develop into the dominant righty it once seemed he would be. The bullpen is terrible, with a big mess at closer.
3. Texas Rangers 75-87
With their pitching, it's miraculous that they managed to stay in the playoff picture as late as they did last season. The offense remains excellent, featuring one of the most powerful infields in Major League history with Hank Blalock, Michael Young, Alfonso Soriano, and Mark Teixera all capable of hitting over 30 home runs. Unfortunately, the pitching staff is just plain ugly. Closer Francisco Cordero throws hard but don't be surprised to see him lose the job midway through the season. The team still feature Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler", as their ace. Playoffs? Don't bet on it.
4. Oakland Athletics 60-102
The A's lost their top two pitchers in the offseason, sending Tim Hudson to Atlanta and losing Mark Mulder to St. Louis. That leaves curveballer Barry Zito and youngster Rich Harden to carry the load, and a bunch of young and unproven guys behind them. There's not much on offense outside of third baseman Eric Chavez, though Bobby Crosby and Nick Swisher should develop into excellent players down the line.
1. Minnesota Twins 96-66
This is the easiest pick in the Major Leagues. Barring some sort of major breakdown, the Twins should have no trouble locking up the AL Central for a fourth straight year. This Twins team should be better than any of the any of those from the past three years, and the rest of the division is not pulling it together very quickly. Brad Radke and Johan Santana should combine for at least 35 wins, and then the Twins will just need adequate production from Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, and Joe Mays. Their bullpen is second to none in the AL. If Morneau and Mauer are healthy all year and someone can rise as a legitimate third starter behind Radke and Santana, this team should have finally have what it takes to surpass the Yankees in October.
2. Cleveland Indians 88-74
The Indians should hang around with the Twins for most of the season, but I think they will fall behind in the last month or two. They have an excellent offense led by DH Travis Hafner and young catcher Victor Martinez, and the pickup of Kevin Millwood in the offseason should steady the talented young rotation. Jake Westbrook and CC Sabathia may wear down towards the end, since they will need to pitch late into games because the bullpen is questionable. Bob Wickman probably isn't going to be a very effective closer, and there is no clear-cut replacement.
3. Detroit Tigers 79-83
The Tigers continue to improve their offense but still need pitching. If Magglio Ordonez bounces back from his injury and Carlos Guillen and Ivan Rodriguez can step up and put up big numbers, this team shouldn't have much trouble producing runs. It's keeping the other team off the board that will cause problems. Mike Maroth and Jeremy Bonderman have a lot to prove, and Jason Johnson isn't exactly a veteran ace. Troy Percival was once a great closer, but that arm doesn't have much left in it... Ugueth Urbina might be the most important piece to this bullpen. The Tigers aren't a great team, but they will finish near .500 because they will beat up on the lesser teams in the Central
4. Chicago White Sox 72-90
I am not at all big on the moves the Sox made in the off-season. The team gave up a lot of power in Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee, and Frank Thomas has health issues. As such, they will rely on speed from guys like Scott Podsednik and Juan Uribe, but that just won't get it done. The pitching rotation is made up of a bunch of disappointing guys who should be great but just aren't, like Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras, and Freddy Garcia.
5. Kansas City Royals 51-111
Ick. Maybe the worst team in the league. After eyeing the playoffs for much of the 2003 season, the Royals fell back into their usual slum in 2004 and there is no reason to think they will be any better this year. There are some nice young players on the offense that provide a glimmer of hope for the future, and Zach Greinke could develop into a terrific pitcher, but the rest of the rotation and the bullpen won't do much this year. Mike Sweeney could be in Anaheim or New York by the end of July.
1. Boston Red Sox 115-47
The Red Sox caught fire late last season, and with the moves they've made in the off-season, it's hard to imagine them not repeating as World Series champs. While they lost Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe from their pitching staff, they picked up strikeout master Matt Clement and David Wells and have retained their true ace in Curt Schilling. If Wade Miller can come in at some point in the season and be a factor that will be a huge bonus for them, and might end up being one of the biggest free agent signings from the off-season. The magnificient offense from last year returns almost completely intact, except for that they've actually upgraded at shortstop with Edgar Renteria. Look out.
2. New York Yankees 98-64
Randy Johnson might win the Cy Young, but the Yankees just don't look as majestic as they have in springs past. Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada are aging, Jason Giambi is coming off of serious steroid controversy in the off-season (as is Gary Sheffield, to a lesser extent), and Alex Rodriguez had a disappointing year in his first stint with the team. The Yankees have been unable to find a suitable replacement for Alfonso Soriano, and I somehow don't think that Tony Womack is the answer. They have a terrific bullpen, and Rivera is likely good for 45 saves, but the starting rotation is iffy. Johnson and Mike Mussina will be great, but can Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright produce like they did last year? In this division? Probably not.
3. Baltimore Orioles 83-81
Would probably be a playoff contender in any other division, expect their pitching staff isn't very good. The addition of Sammy Sosa to complement Miguel Tejada, the best shortstop in the Majors, and Melvin Mora, a very underrated third-baseman, should help boost this team's offense is Sosa can at least have a decent year. If Sidney Ponson can at least pitch respectably, and a couple of the guys behind him in the rotation can step up and win more than 10 games, this team should slug its way to .500.
4. Toronto Blue Jays 77-85
They're right behind the Orioles, and may surpass them next year after they spend some of the loads of money they've got. For right now, they're not quite there yet. They're outfield looks pretty solid, featuring Vernon Wells and complemented by Frank Catalanotto and Alexis Rios. The infield is less impressive, but if Shea Hillenbrand can return to form then he and Corey Koskie might make for one of the better corner infield packages in the league. Roy Halladay, Ted Lilly, and David Bush should form an excellent top of the rotation, but the bullpen is pathetic. No one here can close.
5. Tampa Bay Devil Rays 59-103
Same sad story. All things considered, their team really isn't that bad this year... Carl Crawford is a stud, and Aubrey Huff can really hit. Roberto Alomar might have one decent season left in him. In terms of pitching, they are really hoping that the hot prospect Scott Kazmir can step up and perform at a Major League level, because they need him badly. Dewon Brazelton should have a pretty good year. The bullpen is nothing special, but it's actually probably more well-rounded than Baltimore's or Toronto's.