With the start of the Major League Baseball regular season less than a week away, I have made my preseason predictions for all six divisions and the two wild-card spots.
The first league is the American League East. The AL East may be the toughest division this year, with three teams that have the potential to win the division; the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and defending American League champions, the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Yankees made the biggest moves this offseason by acquiring big name starting pitchers, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, as well as the highest profile fielding free agent, Mark Teixeira.
The moves make the team stronger this season but only if everyone stays healthy. Burnett has been plagued with injury the last few season with the Blue Jays but if he stays healthy he can have a 20-win season.
The Yankees will also have to start the season off with star third baseman Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list for the first month of the season. Without A-Rod, the Yankees may get off to a slow start, and when A-Rod does return to the lineup, his off-field distractions may slow down his production.
The Boston Red Sox made minor low risk signings during the offseason by acquiring pitchers Brad Penny and John Smoltz, and fielders Brad Wilkerson and Rocco Baldelli. Baldelli is expected to start the season in Boston playing in a backup role in the outfield which may help the Red Sox in case J.D. Drew isn’t healthy this season.
Penny is expected to be the Sox' fifth starter in the rotation but Clay Buchholz has made a strong case during spring training to be the fifth starter, as he has pitched great, putting up an impressive 0.46 ERA in 19 2/3 innings as of Mar. 26.
Smoltz is not expected to be ready to pitch until June, but he will be able to take a spot in the rotation if any of the Red Sox starters go down with an injury.
Tampa Bay didn’t make too many big moves during the offseason, but they improved their offense by signing Pat Burrell, who will take over as the designated hitter for Cliff Floyd.
Burrell can put up great numbers and has always played in the outfield, so by becoming the designated hitter, his hitting be even better than it has been in the past. The Rays showed the world what they were capable of last season by winning the American League pennant.
David Price, a rookie pitcher who has already proved to be major league ready will start the season in the minor leagues, but will make a nice addition to the Rays pitching staff when he gets called up sometime in the season.
The AL East is very competitive but I have to go with the Red Sox winning the division.
They have the best starting pitching depth in the majors, and nobody knows how good A-Rod will be after coming back from his hip injury, and how well Teixeira will play in such a big market like New York with pressure coming from the media.
Tampa Bay is my pick for the AL Wild Card.
Players on the team now know what it take to get to the playoffs and win in the playoffs.
Last season, the AL Central was won by a one game playoff by the Chicago White Sox. This year the division may be a three team race to the finish against the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, and Cleveland Indians.
Minnesota and Chicago had the same record at the end of last season and Chicago has the potential to win the division again this year. They have the same team they did a year ago, and if the team can stay healthy, they have as good as chance as every other team on the division to take the title.
Minnesota was close to the division crown last year, but this season may be tougher for the Twins. Their star catcher Joe Mauer is injured, and Minnesota doesn’t know when he will be able to return to action. This will greatly affect the teams chance to make the playoffs.
They need Mauer, who was the American League batting champion, to be healthy as soon as possible. Without Mauer, the Twins may sink in the standings behind the White Sox and Indians.
The Cleveland Indians had a rough season last year finishing in third place with an 81-81 record but this season I’m predicting them to win the division. They have great starting pitching with last years Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee as the ace.
Although he had a record of only 8-7, Fausto Carmona is likely to rebound and have a good season, to help the Indians to the AL Central title.
The AL West is the easiest prediction. That division will be won by the LA Angels of Anaheim. They ran away with the division last and despite losing first baseman Mark Teixeira and closer Francisco Rodriguez to free agency, they still have what it takes.
They signed Bobby Abreu to replace Teixeira’s bat in the lineup and closer Brian Fuentes to replace K-Rod.
The National League East had come down to the final weeks the last two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies beating out the New York Mets to win the division but this will be different.
The Mets signed the best closer on the free-agent market, Francisco Rodriguez, who broke the major league record for saves with the Angels last year. Rodriguez will be able to hold onto to close games for the Mets especially late in the season which when they have had trouble over the last two seasons.
The defending World Series champions, Phillies will give the Mets a run for the money down the stretch but may not be able to catch them this year. Coming off the World Series victory, the Phillies will be able to get a wild card berth and have a chance to win back to back World Series titles.
The NL Central last year was won by the Chicago Cubs, who were able to hold off the Milwaukee Brewers. This year, the Cubs will win the division again and have a chance to win their first World Series in 101 years.
The biggest threat may not be the Brewers this season, but the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals may give they’re divisional rival a run for the money, but in the end I predict Lou Piniella's Cubs will win the division.
The Cubs' biggest challenge after that will be winning a playoff series, which they have not done since 2003.
The NL West is the one of the weakest divisions in the major leagues and is up for grabs for any team. Last year the Los Angeles Dodgers won the division with the help from the mid season acquisition, Manny Ramirez.
Ramirez will greatly help the Dodgers again this year but he may not be able to bring them all the way to the playoffs.
Ramirez signed a one-year deal with LA with a one-year player option. This means that Ramirez may actually play as hard as he can to raise his value, then opt-out of his contract to sign a bigger contract somewhere else.
The Dodgers' biggest problem is pitching. They have a weak pitching staff and every fan knows a team cannot win without pitching.
Pitching is something the San Francisco Giants have. They have NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum back this year as well as 45 year old Randy Johnson. The Giants were terrible this year, and I don’t expect them to win the division, but they will be a lot better than last season.
The Dodgers' biggest threat this year is the Arizona Diamondbacks. The D’Backs have great pitching with Brandon Webb, Jon Garland, and Dan Haren and has the potential to win the NL West.
In the end, the division will probably be decided in the last month of the season with the Diamondbacks inching out the Dodgers for the final playoff spot.
No matter what happens this season in the major leagues, it could be an interesting season. There will be injuries, trades and acquisitions by teams all around throughout the season. To quote basketball star Kevin Garnett, “Anything is possible!”