John and I have had a tradition the last several years of making predictions about the upcoming season and seeing how we come out in the end. Like a lot of other people, we don't usually end up being too accurate. With that said, it's just one of those things you have to do. I'll be doing the American League today, with the National League coming tomorrow. I would certainly think we'll see John's pop up here soon as well. So, without further ado, here we go.
AL EAST: 1. Boston, 2. New York, 3. Toronto, 4. Tampa Bay, 5. Baltimore
Contrary to much of the media's opinion, I think the Red Sox stand to actually improve, based upon their addition of Josh Becket to the rotation, the possible addition of a healthy Curt Schilling, and two smart platoons at first base and right field. Plus, they arguably lost nothing except a lot of money to pay in letting Johnny Damon go to the Yankees and installing Coco Crisp in center. Similarly, they replaced a pretty awful Edgar Renteria at short with an equally awful Alex Gonzalez (which is at least a defensive upgrade), and replaced Mark Bellhorn at 2nd with former Brewer Mark Loretta (another nice upgrade). The bullpen figures to be better, and they return two of the most feared hitters in baseball in David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Obviously, the Yankees lineup is also quite good, but I just don't buy the starting rotation they're planning to use. Guys like Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright either figure to decline (in Mussina's case) or get hurt, and I just don't see any depth there to fill in when the inevitable happens. Granted, there's enough talent in the lineup to carry this team a long way, I just don't see them being able to muster enough to hold off Boston. I'm pretty neutral on Toronto- I don't think the offseason moves were that bad, but I also don't think they make them a playoff team. I think Baltimore stinks, and Tampa Bay's exciting young lineup (once they figure it out) should be enough to garner a 4th place finish.
AL CENTRAL: 1. Chicago, 2. Minnesota, 3. Detroit, 4. Cleveland, 5. Kansas City
I agree with Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus when I say I'm not impressed with what the Indians have done since 2005. I just don't see them having enough to make a run at Chicago again, and while I'm not impressed with the Twins either, I see Minnesota as having just enough pitching to compete for the Wild Card. The White Sox got better this offseason, and I particularly like the addition of Javier Vazquez to an already tremendous rotation. I don't think they can count on a rapidly aging Jim Thome for much, but they look to have enough to get by without him. The pitching in this division is tremendous, so much that young studs like Francisco Liriano, Brandon McCarthy and Joel Zumaya will be beginning the season in their respective teams' bullpens. I'd put a divisional rotation of Johan Santana, Mark Buehrle, C.C. Sabathia, Jeremy Bonderman and Javier Vazquez up against any other division's in baseball, although I may be a little biased, having 4 of the 5 in one of my fantasy leagues this year. Notice there are no Royals on that list- Kansas City looks on paper to be one of the most pathetic teams we've seen in a while. I say even Florida in the NL puts up a better record than them easily.
AL WEST: 1. Oakland, 2. Los Angeles, 3. Texas, 4. Seattle
This was by far the toughest division to predict. Everyone seems to love Oakland this year, so it may seem like I'm just following the crowd. Again though, their rotation goes six deep (seven if you include newly acquired Brad Halsey), and their lineup, while not packed with stars, has great depth. Depth is the reason I chose them over Los Angeles. The Angels also look strong, but an injury here or there and suddenly they're not as hot. Plus, if you look at their lineup top to bottom, they just have more question marks than Oakland. I really like Texas, but I don't think they've improved their pitching staff enough to hang with the big boys. With the addition of Brad Wilkerson, they may end up scoring the most runs in the AL, but they may also end up giving up the most. I like many parts of Seattle's team and I figure they'll improve substantially, but at this point I don't see them finishing better than .500.
So, to add to the division winners (Boston, Chicago and Oakland), it's a very tough call for the Wild Card between New York, Minnesota and Los Angeles. I'll eliminate Minnesota, even though they get to beat up Kansas City on a regular basis to pad their record. I'll give the final nod to the Yankees, if for no other reason than they always seem to find a way.
Boston will beat Chicago in the first round, along with Oakland beating the Yankees in an epic Divisional Round series. In the ALCS, I'll go with Boston over Oakland in 7.
I'll give the American League MVP to David Ortiz of Boston, with the Cy Young award finally returning to Johan Santana where it belongs. For Rookie of the Year, I'll go with Justin Verlander of the Tigers, edging Kenji Johjima of the Mariners.
There, it's all there in print for me to be embarrassed by in September. Tomorrow I'll be back with the NL.