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UCB Prediction Week, Part I: American League

Posted on March 26, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Filed Under: Baltimore Orioles | Boston Red Sox | Chicago White Sox | Cleveland Indians | Detroit Tigers | Kansas City Royals | Los Angeles Angels | Minnesota Twins | New York Yankees | Oakland A's | Seattle Mariners | Tampa Bay Rays | Texas Rangers | Toronto Blue Jays | United Cardinal Bloggers
Every year about this time, the United Cardinal Bloggers take aim at their predictions for the upcoming season.  It's a great way to look at the divisions, get a feel for what is going on, and write down picks that you will be trying to scrub from any internet search engine by probably July.

I'm far from an expert, so take all of these picks with a grain of salt.  There are few gut picks that don't have a lot of basis in reality, so feel free to take that into consideration when reading them.

Since the American League doesn't really matter as much, we at the UCB just lump it all into one day.  So keep reading to see how I pick the divisions to shake out.

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American League East

1) Boston--Obscured in the epic September collapse and the weak start to the season was that, for a large part of the season, Boston was the best team in the division.  Bobby Valentine tends to burn hot and short, so he'll likely get good results out of the team in his first year.  There were no major moves besides swapping Jonathan Papelbon for Andrew Bailey, a move that was lateral at worst.  Boston seems to have all the pieces to be on top of the division at the end of the season.

2) New York--Adding the big arm of Michael Pineda was a masterstroke in the offseason.  The Yankees still have injuries and age issues to deal with in relation to a lot of the offense, but they can still mash with the best of them.  With the pitching staff depth that they have now and the ageless Mariano Rivera showing no signs of slowing down (or being human), the Yanks will be there all year long.

3) Tampa--I'd really like to put them up higher than this.  Tampa has gained a bit of a cult following around the interwebs and I'm on that bandwagon.  How can you not like a team with Evan Longoria, David Price, an intriguing rookie in Matt Moore, plus a great (and seemingly pretty cool) manager in Joe Maddon?  I'm not completely sold on the bullpen and I think that might be enough to keep them out of a very close divisional title race.

4) Toronto--Can the Jays get anything out of Colby Rasmus?  If they can, this team may be able to jell and surprise some people.  So far, the spring hasn't been encouraging in that regard, but the Jays have lots of talent around the club, from third baseman Brett Lawrie to the obvious slugger Jose Bautista to ace Ricky Romero.  The Jays will make noise soon, but will it be this year?  Probably not enough.

5) Baltimore--Remember when the Orioles used to be the class of the American League?  Yeah, it was a bit before my time as well.  The Orioles still have Matt Wieters, who started to come into his own last year, and some talent in players like J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones, but they don't have that superstar talent to build around and the pieces that are wearing the black and orange around those noted aren't necessarily going to inspire anyone.  Putting a team like this in what may be the best division in baseball is just cruel.

American League Central

1) Detroit--How can they not repeat?  Justin Verlander isn't likely to be the MVP again (and probably not even the Cy Young) but he's still going to be that caliber of pitcher.  Miguel Cabrera may not play the best third base, but he's going to likely be a guy that lets in two but drives in three.  With all of the returning talent, they were a favorite in the division, but to add Prince Fielder?  They may not win the division, but that's certainly the way to bet.

2) Kansas City--Deciding who comes the closest to the Tigers is pretty tough, as there isn't a clear choice among the masses left.  The youth and upside of Kansas City wins what could be a coin-flip race in the division.  You have to like what Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler bring to the table, and players like Mike Moustakas only add to the potential.  The pitching staff is young and untested, but have more talent than prior Royals squads have had. The biggest question will be how the club deals with the loss of closer Joakim Soria, out for the year after elbow surgery.

3) Cleveland--The Indians surged out of the gate last year, but eventually gravity took over and they finished well behind Detroit.  Ubaldo Jimenez hasn't shown that he's able to get back to his 2010 form yet.  If he does, he could push Cleveland into the divisional race, at least as much as there will be one.  Losing Grady Sizemore is pretty much baked into any Cleveland projections nowadays and while there are likely to be some standout performances, putting them all together will be the real challenge.

4) Chicago--No Ozzie Guillen, so that's a guarantee the White Sox will be a lot less colorful and controversial this season, unless Robin Ventura decides to charge the mound from the dugout.  This team is reliant on a lot of old stars--Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy, Paul Konerko--either making significant rebounds or keeping at their current level.  Mark Buehrle is gone, so that rock in the rotation has to be replaced as well.  There are some young guys that can help, but this will definitely be a rebuilding year.

5) Minnesota--The mighty have fallen and fallen hard.  Losing Justin Morneau the last couple of years has been a major issue and it seems unlikely that Joe Mauer will ever approach his outstanding 2009 levels again.  Nobody in the rotation really stands out save Francisco Liriano, and with him the odds of him blowing up are equal or greater to him having a stellar outing.  It's tough to see where this team can make up the ground to challenge for any higher in the division.

American League West

1) Texas--This may be a bit on the spiteful side, because you have to figure the team I'm putting second is a solid pick to win it all as well.  However, with the Rangers you are looking at the two-time defending AL champions and a team that was one strike away--twice-- from taking home the title.  In the offseason, they lost C.J. Wilson, but they added Yu Darvish, which looks to have the potential of an upgrade.  Josh Hamilton is still here.  Elvis Andrus is still here.  Joe Nathan looks to lock things down while Neftali Feliz--if and when healthy--moves to the rotation.  All in all this is still a very good team.

2) Los Angeles of Anaheim--We know what they've done to become more than also-rans.  They added C.J. Wilson.  They added Albert Pujols.  I don't think anyone would be surprised if they came out on top this season, at least in the division.  With a staff that included Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, it's hard to pick against them.  Then again, we've seen what teams that "win the offseason" have done in the regular season--it's oftentimes not as exciting as you'd think.

3) Seattle--There's a decided divide in this division.  Either of the first two teams could finish first, either of the last two teams could finish last.  I'll give a slight edge to Seattle, even though Ichiro Suzuki is starting to lose a step.  They gave up a lot but added Jesus Montero, who is a bat that they desperately needed.  With the pitcher's park that is Safeco, I think they edge into third by a game or so.

4) Oakland--You start to wonder if there's a point where Billy Beane isn't rebuilding.  He shipped off Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey in the offseason, even though both weren't even quite to their primes yet.  Beane surprised everyone by landing Yoenis Cespades, who likely immediately became the biggest bat in the lineup.  There's still a lot of young talent on the squad, but they are going to have to grow up at the big league level and that often is a recipe for taking some lumps.

Continue to check back through the week as we go through the various divisions in the National League and top it off with some postseason predictions on Friday!

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