It's that time of year again. When hope is new, the grass smells clean, and people foolishly put down what they think will happen in the baseball season to come. The United Cardinal Bloggers are no different
Every year we take a crack at these things. Sometimes it goes pretty well--Pittsburgh's late fade last year kept me from nailing them being third and over the .500 mark. Sometimes it goes disastrously--I had Boston winning the AL East last year. Yeah, that was pretty much bad from the get-go.
However, terrible performances don't stop us from trying it again anyway. (Kinda like Mike Matheny
continuing to use Victor Marte
last year.) So we'll do it again on the same kinda schedule--the entire American League today, then each division in the National League gets a day before wrapping it up on Friday with postseason predictions and awards.
Since we hardly pay attention to the American League--we all know real baseball lets a pitcher hit, don't we?--let's try to make a quick pass through there today. If you want to use these as a guide, odds are you better figure the opposite is really going to happen!
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American League East
--I tend not to like to pick the teams that "win the offseason" because so often they wind up losing the regular season. That said, Toronto fixed a lot of weaknesses and did so at a time when the road to the top has opened up significantly. Adding Jose Reyes
, Mark Buehrle
, R.A. Dickey
and Josh Johnson
, among others, has to make them the favorite in the division. Even if a couple of pieces don't pan out the way they expect them to, there's enough there to put the Blue Jays in the postseason for the first time in 20 years.
2) Tampa Bay
--You never can rule out Joe Maddon
and the Rays, can you? With a pitching rotation headed up by Cy Young
-winning David Price
, a bullpen with a closer that put up a sub-1.00 ERA last season, and a lineup with Evan Longoria
in it, there's a very competitive team always ready to go. That said, I think the lineup looks a bit think and there are a lot of young (though talented) guys behind Price. A wild-card berth is possible, but I don't know that they have enough for the division.
3) New York
--I honestly wanted to slide them down farther, but can you really see the Yankees and Red Sox fighting for the division cellar? It could happen though. New York has seen blow after blow this spring, with both Curtis Granderson
and Mark Teixeira
out for an extended period of time and Derek Jeter
possibly not ready for Opening Day. They still have CC Sabathia
(probably) and Mariano Rivera
is back, but this looks like an old, brittle team that has likely seen its peak. (And the rumored Sunday trade for Vernon Wells
doesn't look like it changes much of this thought process either.)
--You hate to write off what they did last year, because it was one of those stories that had you rooting for them. That said, they won a lot of one-run games and those things have a way of evening out over time. Besides Adam Jones
and perhaps Manny Machado
(depending on how he develops this season) there's not much that reaches out and grabs you when you look through the roster. Divisions aren't won on star power, of course, but they sure do help.
--I'm not repeating my mistake of last year. I don't know that the Sox will return to the cellar, but there's at least a strong possibility. There are a lot of ifs in the mix there. If John Lackey
returns healthy. If Jon Lester
can regain his form. If David Ortiz
has another good year in him (which is probably less of an if than most everything else on the list.) If the ifs pan out, Boston could be in the middle of things. If not, expect a bit more drama in the Northeast.
American League Central
--Last year, Detroit was supposed to run away and hide with the Central. While that didn't happen, they did have enough firepower to make a late run and surpass the White Sox for the crown. Now they take that team, add Torii Hunter
and Victor Martinez
, and again, this shouldn't be a contest. You have the MVP in Miguel Cabrera
and a Cy Young caliber ace in Justin Verlander
, so again, there shouldn't be much competition for these Tigers to get back to October.
--Somebody's got to come in second, don't they? Chicago had an incredible run last year but ran out of gas before the finish line. Chicago has some interesting talents--Alejandro De Aza
, Dayan Viciedo
, and of course the Three True Outcomes king Adam Dunn
--but I'm not sure they've got enough to overtake what looks to be a very powerful Tigers team. Can Chris Sale
continue to make strides? Is Jake Peavy
really back (and can he stay healthy)? What about John Danks
? There's a lot of questions and only time will provide the answers.
3) Kansas City
--It's a very Royals thing to do, trading off your top prospect in a win-now deal and still only being picked in the middle of the pack. The Royals hadn't been able develop much pitching, so getting James Shields
and Wade Davis
seems to help, but is it enough? That depends on what kind of years Billy Butler
, Alex Gordon
, Eric Hosmer
and Mike Moustakas
have. If those four rake, the Royals might have the pitching to be a nuisance. If not, well, Cleveland might move up in the standings.
--Well, let's see. Joe Mauer
is there, so that's a plus. Justin Morneau
is healthy enough to play in the World Baseball Classic, so there's another. Aaron Hicks
might be a good young player to watch. So maybe they can score some runs. However, when your Opening Day starter is Vance Worley
, you have to figure the pitching staff isn't exactly a strength of the organization.
American League West
1) Los Angeles
--They can't slump again, can they? Sure, Mike Trout
isn't going to be all-world again, but he'll still be pretty great. Albert Pujols
isn't likely to go two months hitting under .200 again. Plus they've added in slugger Josh Hamilton
. Having those guys backing up a pitching staff with Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson
(and, admittedly, a lot less after that) and you'd think that they'd reach the heights most people thought they'd get last year.
--They lost Hamilton, but they added old friend Lance Berkman
, so if nothing else the clubhouse should be a little looser (assuming he quits bringing up the 2011 World Series). They still have probably the best middle infield in the game with Elvis Andrus
and Ian Kinsler
and super prospect Jurickson Profar
is just waiting in the wings to replace one of them. Adrian Beltre
is still there, as is Nelson Cruz
, so offense shouldn't be a problem. Yu Darvish
had a nice rookie year, but can he keep it up? Who else is going to step up in the rotation? The answer to that might be the difference in a wild-card slot and going home.
--They pulled themselves out of the cellar and didn't stop until they won the division, which is quite commendable. That said, to repeat might be an even bigger chore. Yoenis Cespedes
looks to be the real thing and Josh Reddick
had a nice season, but where's the rest of the offense going to come from? Jed Lowrie
? Jemile Weeks
? If Brett Anderson
is back and healthy, the pitching staff gets a boost, but how far can he and Jarrod Parker
--This is Felix Hernandez
's team, of course, but even if he wants to pull out the aliases
, he can't pitch every day. (My son with his Strat-o-Matic team begs to differ as well.) There's not much behind him in the rotation, which may be an issue as Safeco brings in their walls a little bit. Still, if they can score some runs.....Hang on, this is the team with Brendan Ryan
still on it. Boog may save some runs, but he's not likely to drive many in. Seattle hopes for some revivals from Jason Bay
and Dustin Ackley
, which may mean that they are really happy this is now a five-team division.
--Our long-time NL Central rivals have packed up and move to different pastures. While that likely will bode well for the Cardinals in a few years, right now St. Louis is going to mourn the opportunities lost to rack up some relatively easy wins. Bud Norris
and Lucas Harrell
give the pitching staff some muscle, but a lot of Cardinal castoffs on the offensive side of things (Brett Wallace
, Tyler Greene
, Ronny Cedeno
) makes you wonder just how they are going to score enough to keep them from some horrendous win-loss records.