Pulling away from our usual regiment of strictly-Twins analysis, we'll be spending the next couple days taking a look around the American League and National League, and predicting how each division will play out in the coming season. I'll be exploring the AL today, and Mr. Mosvick will have a write-up on the NL for you tomorrow.
For the past couple years when we've done these predictions, we have included projected final records for each team. This year we're going to scratch that, because it tends to be overly specific and not particularly useful (plus, the math can be a pain). Instead, we'll simply be predicting where each team will finish in their respective divisions. So, without further ado, here's how I see the American League playing out in 2007...
1. Los Angeles Angels
The Angels don't dazzle me, but they are a well-rounded team that should be good enough to come out on top in a West division that is, in my opinion, fairly weak this year. The Angels have some good young talent on offense, with Casey Kotchman and Howie Kendrick set to take over full-time at first base and second base, respectively. Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson return as the veteran presence in the middle of the lineup; and while the contract handed to Gary Matthews Jr. is a ridiculous one, he will be an improvement for them in center field, particularly on defense. The Halos' pitching staff is excellent. Veterans John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar lead the rotation, and rounding it out are promising youngsters Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver. Bartolo Colon is injured but is scheduled to return in May. Add to that one of the best bullpens in the biz, and you've got a team with a good shot to be there in October.
2. Oakland Athletics
It's tough to bet against the A's, but their team isn't overly impressive this season. Gone is 2006 MVP candidate Frank Thomas, who will be replaced at designated hitter by Mike Piazza. That will probably be a downgrade. The rest of the lineup is fairly weak. The rotation is topped by a couple great pitchers in Rich Harden and Dan Haren, but the rest (Esteban Loaiza, Joe Blanton, Joe Kennedy) leaves something to be desired. The bullpen is good, and in general this team will probably win enough to contend, but I think they'll fall well short of a division title this year.
3. Texas Rangers
The Rangers look to have an improved pitching staff this year with the additions of Vicente Padilla and Brandon McCarthy, but overall the rotation probably won't be good enough to carry them anywhere. The bullpen remains suspect despite the addition of closer Eric Gagne. Offensively, the Rangers will be good as usual, with a lineup anchored by Michael Young, Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock. My expectations for Sammy Sosa are low, but he could be a wild-card if he shows that he's still got something left in the tank.
4. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners' lineup will be similar to the one they had last year, except with washed-up vet Jose Vidro penciled in at DH. The rotation could be ugly; Felix Hernandez is a legitimate ace, but there isn't a whole lot to like behind him. There's little reason to believe the Mariners will be pulling themselves out of the cellar this season.
1. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers busted out of the AL Central doldrums last season in a big way, and it doesn't appear that they'll be headed back any time soon. Their roster is loaded this year. The lineup has essentially no weaknesses 1-9, and the addition of Gary Sheffield makes them all the more dangerous. The rotation is extremely solid. Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander could have big years; Kenny Rogers always seems to get the job done; and Nate Robertson and Mike Maroth -- while not great -- are passable fourth and fifth starters. The bullpen is strong and Jim Leyland is a top-notch manager. The Tigers could be a force to be reckoned with this season.
2. Cleveland Indians
I picked the Indians to win the AL Central last season, and ended up looking like a buffoon. This year they're a trendy pick to win the division, but I'm not sure why. The offense will be strong again; Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner are both MVP-caliber players. Yet, once again, the pitching is a question. They improved their bullpen to the point that it shouldn't be a debilitating weakness anymore, but I still don't think it's all that strong. The rotation is solid but not spectacular. C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Jeremy Sowers and Paul Byrd will occupy the first four spots, with Fausto Carmona filling the fifth spot until Cliff Lee returns from the disabled list. Look out for 22-year-old right-hander Adam Miller to make an impact at some point in the season.
3. Minnesota Twins
The Twins certainly have enough talent to compete in this tough division, but I just can't see them finishing near the top with all their rotation questions. I think the offense will be as good as it was last year, or perhaps a little better, but they'll have trouble getting a ton of consistency out of the group of guys they have behind Johan Santana in the rotation. Even if they ditch Carlos Silva and Sidney Ponson early, it's tough to expect Glen Perkins or Kevin Slowey to light the world on fire considering their lack of experience above the Double-A level. Fortunately, the Twins' bullpen should be good enough that the pitching staff overall will be respectable.
4. Chicago White Sox
This might seem like a low spot for the White Sox, who admittedly have a very talented roster, but to me they seem like the weakest of four great teams in this division. Chicago's rotation is fairly mediocre, especially if Jose Contreras comes back down to Earth and Mark Buehrle's struggles from last year carry over. Their lineup is once again very strong, but for some reason I get the feeling that the injury bug is going to bite them this year.
5. Kansas City Royals
The expensive offseason addition of elite ace Gil Meche had me considering picking the Royals for a first-place finish, but unfortunately I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Kansas City has some nice young players, and I'm excited to watch 23-year-old Alex Gordon (who looks like a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year) at third base, but it looks like it will be another fifth-place finish for the Royals.
1. New York Yankees
I know I'm going out on a limb here, but I think the Yankees will make the playoffs. The addition of Doug Mientkiewicz at first base pushes them from a decent offensive team to a behemoth. In all seriousness, the Yanks' lineup is unreal (the runner-up batting champ is their No. 8 hitter!), and the rotation, while fairly old, should be good enough to take care of business.
2. Boston Red Sox
Because of the attrition in the AL Central, I think the Red Sox will win the wild card. The additions of Julio Lugo at shortstop and J.D. Drew in right field should improve their offense, and their rotation of Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Papelbon and Tim Wakefield should be a good one, although I think some people might be overrating it a little bit. The bullpen looks pretty good, but Terry Francona needs to get his closer situation figured out.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays finally managed to pass the Red Sox in the standings last year after a spendy offseason, but they still won only 87 games and missed the playoffs. They'll return a lineup similar to the one they trotted out last year, with the addition of Frank Thomas at DH. The offense should be strong, but there are some questions in the rotation past the 1-2 punch of Roy Halladay and Burnett. Halladay is the only AL pitcher who is even in the same class as Santana, but he's had a hard time staying healthy lately, as has Burnett. If those two can't stay off the DL, this team will have a real tough time finishing above .500.
4. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
It'll be another developmental year for the D-Rays. They have some nice young players on offense, but their rotation is a train-wreck past Scott Kazmir.
5. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles were bad last year, and this year they might be even worse. That pitching staff is downright awful, with Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera being followed by Jaret Wright, Adam Loewen and Steve Trachsel. The bullpen is iffy as well, and offense won't be dazzling.