I can’t remember the last time I was this excited for a baseball season. I’m a devout Red Sox fan still licking my wounds from last September’s collapse, and I’m not exactly salivating at the start to the Bobby Valentine era, yet I’m thrilled that the MLB is back.
The reason for my joy is that the sport with no salary cap that constantly trots out the usual suspects to the postseason every year finally has some league-wide intrigue for their incredibly lengthy season. The American League has six loaded teams vying for five playoff spots (an extra postseason berth was added to each league this year) while the National League isn’t as top-heavy but has parity throughout that makes predicting division winners more of a guessing game than ever.
This week we’ll take a closer look at the AL, grouping teams with their expected equals while also doling out some grades and predictions.
Baltimore Orioles: Lineup (C+), Rotation (F), Bullpen (C-)
Like last season, Baltimore’s lineup will provide some power, but it’s filled with free swingers who don’t get on base. Their rotation is chalk full of failed prospects and castoffs from other teams while their bullpen is mediocre at best.
Oakland Athletics: Lineup (F), Rotation (D), Bullpen (D+)
The A’s lineup is anemic, a career setup man will be masquerading as their closer and their starting rotation touts the likes of Tyson Ross, Tommy Malone and Jarod Parker. Yikes.
Seattle Mariners: Lineup (D+) Rotation (C-), Bullpen (D)
After shipping off young fireballer Michael Pineda for what scouts project to be a career designated hitter, the Mariners rotation is now King Felix and a load of crap. The lineup is counting on too many unknowns (Figgins, Smoak, Montero) and closer Brandon League is their only proven commodity in the bullpen.
Middle of the Pack
Chicago White Sox: Lineup (C-), Rotation (C), Bullpen (B-)
Paul Konerko is still a threat but the rest of the lineup is relying on bounce-back years or prospects to finally develop. The rotation doesn’t blow you away, but the bullpen has a lot of potential with some exciting young arms.
Kansas City Royals: Lineup (B), Rotation (D+), Bullpen (B-)
The young talent the Royals have stockpiled over the years is finally flowing to the majors. The rotation is full of question marks, but their everyday lineup and the arms out in the bullpen are encouraging for KC.
Minnesota Twins: Lineup (C+), Rotation (C), Bullpen (C-)
The lineup would be quite formidable if Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau revert to their 2008 forms, but that just can’t be counted on. They still lack an ace atop their rotation and Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano are still huge injury risks. Matt Capps should be a decent closer and the rest of the bullpen is stocked with middling talent.
Cleveland Indians: Lineup (B-), Rotation (C+) Bullpen (C+)
I think Cleveland needs another starter and another year of development for their younger players before they are a good team. There’s hope with Carlos Santana, the real deal at catcher, and Jason Kipnis, a highly regarded future All-Star second baseman. I think Ubaldo Jimenez will rebound; I like Justin Masterson in the rotation as well and Chris Perez is a quality closer, but the rest of their pitching is substandard.
Toronto Blue Jays: Lineup (B) Rotation (C+), Bullpen (B)
Behind a strong offense, Canada’s team has quickly morphed into a scary squad. Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus make up a formidable lineup while Ricky Romero leads an underrated rotation. The additions of Sergio Santos and Francisco Cordero help to bolster a once comically bad bullpen.
Boston Red Sox: Lineup (A-) Rotation (B) Bullpen (B-)
Boston’s top five in the batting order is as good as any team in baseball. They still have three high-quality starters and they revamped their bullpen by adding closer Andrew Bailey and setup man Mark Melancon. Health concerns (Crawford, Youkilis, Bailey, Buchholz) and a manager/front office rift could derail the Red Sox, but contrary to popular belief the talent is there.
Detroit Tigers: Lineup (B+) Rotation (B), Bullpen (B)
Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder should be the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball and Detroit has good supporting pieces in the lineup. Justin Verlander was the best pitcher in baseball last year, but after him the rotation really takes a tumble in terms of proven pedigree. Though he overachieved last year, Jose Valverde is a good closer and the Tigers have some other capable arms in their pen.
Los Angeles Angels: Lineup (B), Rotation (A), Bullpen (B-)
The Angels have the best rotation in the major leagues (Weaver-Haren-Wilson-E. Santana) and the addition of Albert Pujols to the heart of their lineup should help solve their run scoring woes. Closer Jordan Walden touches 100 mph and the rest of the bullpen is respectable.
Tampa Bay Rays: Lineup (B+ Rotation (A-), Bullpen (B)
While the Angels have the best rotation, the Rays have the deepest. They have an ace in David Price and they can to stave off injuries and even a trade with their abundance of quality arms. Their lineup should be improved with a full year of Desmond Jennings and the decent spike in production I expect from Evan Longoria. Joe Maddon always patches his bullpen together well, though I still don’t trust Kyle Farnsworth closing things out.
Texas Rangers: Lineup (A) Rotation (B), Bullpen (B+)
The back-to-back AL Champions will score runs in abundance once again with seven All-Star quality bats in their lineup. The newly acquired Yu Darvish is expected fill the hole in the rotation left by C.J. Wilson’s departure, but I’m not sold on the unproven entity. The move of Neftali Feliz to the rotation should be interesting, but the Rangers have the bullpen depth to be one of the best in the league without his services.
New York Yankees: Lineup (A) Rotation (A-), Bullpen (B+)
There may be increased competition at the top of the AL, but it’s the evil empire who are still the favorites to make it to the World Series. They’ve been able to mash for years and can still hit with anyone, but the additions to their rotation are what put them over the top. Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda fill in nicely behind ace CC Sabathia and shift what’s required of Nova/Hughes/Garcia, Pettitte to more realistic levels. The ageless wonder Mariano Rivera is still the anchor to a bullpen that also has strong seventh (Soriano) and eighth (Robertson) inning relievers.