Who will be this year's Rockies, or other sleeper?
By sleeper, I don't necessarily mean they are going to win their division, but just be pleasant surprises as well. These are teams who, if things go right, and by things I mean just about everything, will really surprise some people.
The M's know they aren't going to slug their way to any postseason glory, their offense really doesn't scare anyone. However, throwing Bedard into the rotation with their bullpen gives them enough pitching to hang around just long enough to make the Halos uncomfortable. If Sexson, especially considering it is a contract year for him, and Beltre can perform in a way that halfway justifies their contracts, the M's will be around.
Kansas City Royals
They actually got some nice work from the top end of their rotation a year ago and have a plethora of young guys (Shealy, Teahan, Gordon) who you expect to improve this season. They won't win a division with the Indians and Tigers in it, but with Minnesota coughing up so much and the White Sox just not being overly impressive at all, it's not unthinkable that they could finish third.
Tampa Bay Rays
This will rest entirely on the results of Kazmir's MRI, but they obviously are blessed with some exciting young talent throughout the roster, and enough in the outfield they could actually IMPROVE their team via trades during the season if need be. The young arms in the rotation have talent and promise, if they come through, the Rays are going to be a team who can win a lot of series during the year. Their bullpen of course is old and, well, non existent, and their division is outstanding, but still, there is promise.
Toronto Blue Jays
I like the Shannon Stewart pickup. He wasn't bad last year, just rather average, but that's more than what Reed Johnson offers them. I just wonder about their defense now though with Rolen's shoulder woes and replacing SS McDonald with Eckstein. They were great defensively a year ago, how much will this change? In any event, if Halladay and Burnett can have injury free years, and Burnett can stay focused all season, that's an outstanding 1-2 punch with some nice talent behind them. If things go wrong with the young starters in New York, and Lester and Bucholtz struggle to hold down the fort in Boston pending the availability and effectiveness of Schilling and Wakefield, Toronto just might have a shot at the division.
I list them as a sleeper only because the whole world seems to think the NL East is simply a fight between the Phillies and Mets.
I know, I know, this team is a joke, right? Well, they might be a joke, but the NL Central just looks really, really, REALLY weak to me right now. I could be wrong, but I don't like this division, and the Reds have a chance to make some progress. Arroyo and Harang are fine, though beyond them their rotation gave them lclose to nothing a year ago. However, when you look at this division, outside of Chicago and Milwaukee, I'm not really sure anyone else's rotation looks all that much better, and I kinda like the Reds offense a bit more than the rest of the division as well. They could potentially finish third, and the Cubs always offer the potential of an implosion and the Brewers were nothing but mediocre after their hot start. The result could be that .500 ball wins this division, in which case, the Reds have a crack.
If only they had an offense. They really shouldn't be here, but I wanted to give them a call because I like their rotation. I was slightly wrong about the rotations in the division in discussing the Reds, as Pittsburgh offers a little more. However, their offense looks to be absolutely atrocious. I'd love to see the Pirates do better, I hate watching them suffer like they do. If Bay and LaRoche can provide some middle of the order pop, and their top three pitchers can combine for 40 plus wins, they could hang around through at least July.