I hate to try and preview the season until right before the season starts, when injuries and ailments are apparent, and we have seen how guys perform in spring training. Spring training allows us to see how these guys have come back from injuries last year (e.g. Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves). We can also see how guys fit in with their new teams after off season deals. It frustrates me when people try to analyze who will finish where as early as the Winter Meetings. I read people predicting the Cardinals will win the NL Central, and then Wainwright goes down for the season. But now we are finally at Opening Day and I am ready to unleash my picks.
Lets start with the Junior Circuit:
American League East Division:
1. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are looking really strong this year. Again, I chose to wait, but after getting through spring training, the Red Sox do look like they will be every bit as good as everyone thinks. Bringing in key additions in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez adds to an already strong and balanced lineup. Youkilis will move back to his original position at third. The Sox’ pitching is strong as usual. With a front line featuring Beckett and Lester, Lackey had a great spring, being described as “throwing like he did in college,” which is why he was drafted so high (68th overall). And the back end of their bullpen is strong as usual with Papelbon, who has youngster Daniel Bard right behind him.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
While the Rays did lose Garza and Crawford from last year’s team, I expect them to finish second. Even with all the buzz around young pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, I think he is still underrated. David Price will make a run at the AL Cy Young Award, Longoria will stay strong, and you can expect bounce back years from Manny Ramirez and Ben Zobrist. Look for strong play from Reid Brignac as well.
3. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles boast a strong, young staff headlined by 24 year old hurler Brian Matusz. Veterans Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero have come back years. Matt Wieters finally breaks through with the monster year he is capable of having. The key is whether Brian Roberts plays like he did a few years ago.
4. New York Yankees
To me, the Yankees’ season depends on one question: Can Robinson Cano continue to play the way he has the past two seasons? To me, the answer is no. Yankees finish 4th.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
Young outfielder Travis Snider probably has a good year, along with Rajai Davis, and look for Kyle Drabek to turn into something special, but the Blue Jays just aren’t ready yet. They will be very soon, maybe even as soon as next season, but they play in such a loaded division that it will still be difficult. Maybe they should move to the AL West…
American League Central Division
1. Minnesota Twins
I expect the Twins to be the clear front runners in their division. They have a huge bat in Joe Mauer, and if Justin Morneau comes back strong, they will be hard to top. They also boast a very deep pitching staff, that, despite lacking an ace, features 6 guys of excellent caliber competing for 5 spots, which resulted in Kevin Slowey being pushed to the bullpen.
2. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox win the American League Wild Card. Gordon Beckham has a strong year along with Edwin Jackson. I expect Alex Rios to build on his strong performance last season. Adam Dunn gives them another big stick in the middle of their lineup. When and if Jake Peavy returns from his injury midseason, they will be in a great position to make a run, possibly at the division title.
3. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers have the talent, but they have some questions. Will Victor Martinez play as well as projected? Will their young outfielders in Boesch and Jackson perform? Will Miguel Cabrera be alright? Verlander gives them a good chance to win every fifth day, but can the rest of their rotation hold up?
4. Kansas City Royals
Kansas City finally moves out of the basement. They are actually a threat to take the division very soon, maybe as soon as next year. The best indicator of their chances will be after highly touted 3B prospect Mike Moustakas makes it to the big leagues. Even though they had to trade away Zack Greinke, they still have some good young pitching, and one of the best closers in the game to back up their staff.
5. Cleveland Indians
The Indians’ youngsters will be the key to this season, and I don’t think they will be able to make enough of an impact. While I expect Carlos Santana to have a good year, young pitcher Carlos Carrasco isn’t quite ready. They will, however, be an interesting team to watch in 2 years.
American League West Divison:
1. Texas Rangers
The Rangers lineup is loaded. Mike Napoli is going to have an absolutely monster year. They’ve got Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, and Nelson Cruz who have all proven themselves. Throw speedster Elvis Andrus in there and you’ve got a tough team. If the biggest question on offense is how the #9 hitter is going to do, then I think there isn’t much to worry about. And that’s not even to mention the pitching. It is an incredible luxury when you have the ability to move one of the game’s premiere young closers (Neftali Feliz) into a starting role and have a guy like Alexi Ogando waiting to fill in. This team is loaded.
2. Oakland A’s
The youth and talent of the Athletics’ front four is among the strongest in the Major Leagues. With Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden, the A’s should get enough to get a decent number of games to the ninth with a lead. And once Andrew Bailey gets the ball with a lead in the ninth, you can pretty much give them a win. The problem is that they don’t have too much offense to go with it. Youngster Cliff Pennington might give them a boost, but you don’t know what to expect. Cold hard truth is that they are good enough to be second in a fairly weak division and they would probably finish 4th or 5th in a division like the AL East.
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels have some veteran arms on their staff, but I don’t think they will get it done this year. I have issues with Dan Haren, Scott Kazmir, and Fernando Rodney. With Kendry Morales still hurt from last year to start the season, I just don’t know that they will make that much noise in the West.
4. Seattle Mariners
Just like last year, Felix Hernandez will be among the league leaders in Stikeouts and Earned Run Average. And just like last year we will get just about the worst run support in Major League Baseball. As will the rest of the Mariners’ starters. They just cannot win games. The only bit of refreshing news for the Mariners is prospect Justin Smoak. I don’t think he’s ready yet.