Opening day of America’s national pastime is just a week from getting underway, which of course means it’s time for an MLB preview. This week will focus on the American League, and next week’s issue will have the National League preview. So without further ado, let’s jump into part one. Enjoy.
1. Boston Red Sox: The reason the Red Sox get the nod for me is their two huge offseason acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Their lineup can beat you with speed (Crawford and Ellsbury) or power (Gonzalez, Ortiz, Youkilis), and they always work pitch counts. Boston bolstered their bullpen this offseason as well, which was an issue at times last year, by bringing in Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler. The starting rotation is the biggest question mark, as Josh Beckett’s health is always a concern, John Lackey’s first year in Boston was a bumpy ride, and Daisuke Matsuzaka still seems scared to throw strikes at times. Overall, the Red Sox have the most talent in all of baseball and they’ll contend for a World Series title.
2. New York Yankees (Wild Card): The Yankees issues concern me much more than Boston’s, which is why I have them taking the Wild Card instead of the division. Mark Teixera, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and the rest of New York’s stud filled lineup is great, but those guys can’t pitch. A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova, and Bartolo Colon are the projected three, four and five starters for the Yankees, and the bullpen is also shaky outside of closer Mariano Rivera and new setup man Rafael Soriano. The Bronx Bombers’ bats are good enough to power them to a Wild Card spot, but they can’t overtake their arch rival with their multiple pitching weaknesses.
3. Tampa Bay Rays: Tampa Bay lost their star left fielder (Carl Crawford), their No. 2 starter (Matt Garza), and their great closer (Rafael Soriano) this offseason. Their bullpen is a mess and their young talent (Jeremy Hellickson and Desmond Jennings) will need a while to acclimate themselves to the big leagues. They still have talent and will compete because of pitcher David Price and third baseman Evan Longoria, but I think they lost too much to make the playoffs.
4. Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles added a lot of power since last year ended, bringing in Vladimir Guerrero, Derrick Lee, Mark Reynolds, and J.J. Hardy. Baltimore is going to be able to slug with anyone in the majors, but their downfall, as usual, is their dreadful pitching. Jeremy Guthrie is their No. 1 starter, and that pretty sums up why the O’s won’t finish any higher than fourth.
5. Toronto Blue Jays: Toronto has too many enigmas on their team to trust them. Aaron Hill and Adam Lind appeared to be breakout players in 2009, only to regress and have horrid seasons in 2010. Jose Bautista hit an astonishing 54 home runs last season, but only had 59 home runs in his previous four full seasons. Their starting pitching is mediocre at best, and their closer is best known for throwing a chair into the stands a few years back. Say it with me now, “cellar dwellers.”
1. Chicago White Sox: The addition of Adam Dunn gives the White Sox the most potent lineup in the division while also giving them protection behind Paul Konerko. The starting rotation is solid with Mark Buerhle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd, and if Chicago can keep Jake Peavy healthy then they have a real ace. Closer Bobby Jenks departed in the offseason, but Matt Thornton looks primed to step in and fill that role just fine. The main concern is the rest of Chicago’s bullpen, which is underwhelming once you get past Thornton. Chicago still has a lot of talent and the fewest qualms of the team’s in the AL Central.
2. Minnesota Twins: Minnesota has a great manager in Ron Gardenhire, a nice starter in Francisco Liriano, and the best backstop in baseball in Joe Mauer. However, the uncertainty that surrounds the Twins is the main reason I have the White Sox topping them for the division title. Stud first baseman Justin Morneau is still having issues from a concussion he experienced last July and may not be ready for the start of the season. Closer Joe Nathan returns after missing all of last year following Tommy John surgery, but it’s unsure how long it will take him to return to his pre-injury form. There is just too much doubt among a pair of crucial players to trust Minnesota.
3. Detroit Tigers: The Tigers signed Victor Martinez to help improve their lineup and protect star slugger Miguel Cabrera. The offense should be stronger with Martinez in tow, but they still have some glaring holes in that lineup. Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer could be a dominant 1-2 punch at the top of Detroit’s rotation, but the other three starters and the suspect bullpen don’t look like those of a playoff caliber team.
4. Cleveland Indians: Shin-Soo Choo has quietly been an All-Star caliber player the last three seasons, and catcher Carlos Santana is one of the top prospects in all of baseball, but that’s about all the good things you can say about the Indians. Outfielder Grady Sizemore has had an injury riddled last two years and hasn’t lived up to his potential, their starting rotation is filled with a bunch of no-names, and their bullpen may be worse than their starters. Not much to like in Cleveland, and the only reason they aren’t last place material is because…
5. Kansas City Royals: …they have the Royals in their division! Kansas City’s top hitter is Billy Butler, and then you can pick whose second best from the interchangeable list of journeymen and failed prospects. Joakim Soria is an elite closer, but that isn’t really a high priority position for a team that’s finished under .500 each of the last seven seasons. The only other gem the Royals had was Zack Greinke, and they shipped him off to Milwaukee back in December. Look for Kansas City to extend their consecutive losing seasons to eight.
1. Texas Rangers: The Rangers offense is going to be a juggernaut once again in 2011. Vladimir Guerrero departed to Baltimore via free agency, but new import Adrian Beltre should be able to replicate that production. Everyone else returns for the Texas offense that finished fifth in the majors in runs scored a year ago, headed by 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton. However, the quality of the Rangers pitching remains to be seen. Texas was unable to re-sign ace Cliff Lee, so now outside of C.J. Wilson there remains a lot of uncertainty among the Rangers starters. The bullpen should still be strong, as its again anchored by closer Neftali Feliz. In the end, their hitting is so elite that they should be able to slug their way to a division title.
2. Los Angles Angels of Anaheim: If the Angels had one more strong starting pitcher, I’d have taken them to win the West. Last year’s strikeout king Jered Weaver is back manning the top of the rotation along with Dan Haren. The rest of the rotation has some solid arms, but they need another high-caliber starter to compensate for their mediocre lineup. The Angels have a lot of aging hitters in their starting nine, and a regression in performance is to be expected. The bullpen is decent, but overall Los Angles doesn’t have enough talent overall to top the Rangers.
3. Oakland Athletics: Oakland’s young, talented pitching could have them competing for the division title as well. The A’s easily have the deepest rotation in the division, with Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill all being high quality starters. Oakland’s bullpen already had an elite closer in Andrew Bailey, and the pieces in the pen were strengthened with the additions of Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour. The problem with the Athletics seems to be their constant weakness: hitting. The A’s lineup is brutally bad, and that is going to limit their ability to rise within the division.
4. Seattle Mariners: Japanese icon and future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki is the star hitter for the Mariners, and Seattle also boasts the AL Cy Young winner from a year ago in Felix Hernandez. Unfortunately for Mariners fans, that pretty sums up the talent that Seattle has on their entire roster. The Mariners will be a solid defensive team, but their lackluster lineup, unproven starters behind Hernandez and a weak bullpen will leave them in last place yet again in 2011.