Division Winner: Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa only improved their World Series team in the off-season and should have better production from Carl Crawford and BJ Upton, who were both off of their game for some of last year.
The team made a great move in signing Pat Burrell to play DH. Longoria and Pena will produce from the corner infield spots as well. Do not miss the fact that this team has a great defense too, an aspect often neglected in our statistic driven minds. They have a great rotation and their best pitcher will start at AAA Durham (David Price). What’s not to like about this team?
X-Factor: David Price can add to an already loaded rotation when he comes up in late April. He could compete to be the staff ace next year.
Liabilities: The Rays have an old but consistent bullpen. A few injuries to these aging pitchers could cause problems.
AL Wild Card Winner: Boston Red Sox
Ranking the BoSox at number two is more of a compliment to the Rays than a slight on the Red Sox. They may have the best rotation in baseball, especially considering that the team has future star Dustin Masterson in the bullpen until he is needed. Pedroia is greatand will produce consistently along with Kevin Youkilis. Little League coaches everywhere should make their teams watch these two players to learn about hard work and dedication.
You have to love a rotation that has Brad Penny as a number five starter and John Smoltz returning in midseason. The main problem with the Red Sox is that Jason Varitek is now an offensive liability and the injury bug could bite some of the older starts.
X-Factor: This bullpen is the deepest in baseball and will allow the Red Sox to win several close games.
Liabilities: Mike Lowell, David Ortiz, and JD Drew need to stay of the DL in order for this team to compete.
Close Third: New York Yankees
The Yankees, while staying under last year’s payroll, went and signed the top free agents in the off-season. However, it will not be enough for them to win the division. The loss of Alex Rodriguez for the first month of the year will put them behind by May.
Derek Jeter, already a defensive liability, will decline in offense and will not flourish in the leadoff role. Not to slight Derek, as who would not want this guy on their team, but he is not the player he once was.
Can the Yankees count on consistent production from Hideki Matsui, Brett Gardner, and Robinson Cano? Cano is the only one of that group that is dependable. The rotation will blow guys away with Sabathia and Burnett and the bullpen is stellar; however, I would not be surprised if we see CC lose some time to the DL with as many innings as he threw for the Brewers last year and no one should count on AJ Burnett to make 30 starts.
X-Factor: Xavier Nady fits the X-factor role nicely, but he has the ability to be a dependable bat in the outfield if he gets consistent playing time.
Liabilities: Posada, Damon, Jeter, and Matsui are one year older and could see their production decline.
This team has spent time developing their farm system and will now begin to see the benefits. Future superstar Matt Wieters will be up in midseason and has the potential to be a franchise player for years to come. Brian Roberts works hard and fits the second base and leadoff roles nicely. Adam Jones and Nick Markaksis are rising stars and will produce on defense and offense. This team can score some runs, but their starting rotation is atrocious.
They have former Phillies castaway Adam Eaton as the number three and while Jeremy Guthrie may have potential to be an ace, the O’s will not get the kind of quality innings from their starters in order to compete.
X-Factor: Luke Scott and Aubrey Huff are underrated and will outperform expectations.
Liabilities: Starting pitching. The bullpen is improved but also has some big questions.
Toronto Blue Jays
This team always seems to have the right pieces but can never stay healthy long enough to put together a run at the division. Already this season, their starting rotation has been decimated by injury. Roy Halladay is the only pitcher they have that can be trusted with any confidence.
Vernon Wells and Alex Rios will provide offense from the outfield and Travis Snider is a rising star at DH. The rest of the offense, with the exception of Adam Lind, is mostly past its prime and will not provide enough runs for this team to compete.
X-Factor: Dustin McGowan could return to pre-injury form and provide a second quality starter once he comes back in May.
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