Most improved team from last year to this year? Possibly, especially when you look at the fact they have about 57 of 162 games against the teams in their division. The Angels are all past their prime or injured (Shields, Lackey, Guerrero, Hunter, Anderson, Matthews, and Garland). Texas still doesn't have any pitching and less hitting than they had in previous years. The A's are hoping on often injured players (Street, Harden, Crosby, and Chavez) carry a very young team.
The Mariners lineup is good enough with their pitching staff to win many games. Sure, Vidro, Sexon and Beltre are overpaid for what they are doing now, and the addition of Wilkerson does not help, but Ichiro is still the best lead off hitter in baseball and Jose Lopez and Raul Ibanez are decent. The big question offensively can Richie Sexon hit 50 points higher, 10 more homeruns, and 20-30 more rbi, than he did last year? If so he will return to being a presence in the middle of the lineup, if not their lineup is very thin after Ichiro, Beltre and Lopez.
On paper at this point in the season, they have a very good starting 5 to go along with a dominant closer in JJ Putz they will have a chance to win almost every game they play. They also have Mel Stottlemyre joining the team as the pitching coach which should help the staff improve as well. The big question can "King" Felix stay healthy all year? If he can then they may have the best 1-2 combo in the league to go along with Cleveland's (C.C. and Fausto) and Arizona's (Webb and Haren), if not then they will have to battle it out with the Angels for the division.
By far the best team on paper. From top to bottom, their guys are better or close to the same as any other team. When healthy here is their projected starting lineup: Granderson, Renteria, Sheff, Ordonez, Cabrera, Guillen, Jones (or Thames), Rodriguez, and Polanco. That is scary. Obviously Pudge, Renteria, and Sheff have their best days behind them. Jones and Thames are not great. Ordonez' health at least should be a question. Cabreera just got his first real big contract of his career. All factors working against the Tigers, except that Jim Leyland is the type of manager that is not going to sit still and let his team underachieve. The big question for this team is how will Sheff- Daddy handle the eventual demotion from the three spot to the five spot? If he handles it well (which is very unlikely) then they have no problems and they will roll to a division title, if he takes it badly (which is very likely) he can pull this team a part (which he has done before).
Verlander, Bonderman, Rogers, Willis, Robertson may be the strongest rotation from 1-5 in the league. Todd Jones is still getting the job done in the ninth. So, this team is going to be in every game they play this season. The only problem is the bridge from the starters to Jones. None of their relievers have much experience in the back- end of games. Which leads to the big question for the pitching staff, can Zumaya and Rodney stay healthy and return to the form they had in 2006? If even one of them can then the rest of the AL is in trouble, but if they can't the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings of games will be a roller coaster ride for Detroit.
I know, I know, but they're my team and I can't pick against them or for the Red Sox.
The lineup is not nearly as dominating as it was a couple years ago, but it is still very strong. When your 7, 8, 9 hitters are Posada, Matsui, and Melky, that is a force to be reckon with. Also, they don't have to deal with the whole will A-Rod opt out discussion that surrounded the team last year. The big question is, can Damon, Matsui and Giambi deal with playing in more of a platoon situation? If they can then the Yankees should be able to out hit any other team in their division, if they do not then the Yankees are where they were last year relying on A-Rod, Jeter, Posada, Cano and Abreu more than they should.
I do not think the pitching staff is as bad as everyone is making it out to be. Wang has more wins than any other pitcher in the MLB the past two seasons, Pettitte has been banged up, but nothing has been too serious (if you think other wise you better say you are concerned about Josh Beckett's health). Hughes and Kennedy pitched well last season and now do not have to worry about being taken out of the starting five by an experienced veteran (because there is not one). Mussina is old, but has not said anything about retiring which means he is in a contract year right now and I would expect him to get back to where he was two years ago. The bullpen is decent leading up to Joba and Mo. Farnsworth and Bruney have publicly come out and say that they already prefer playing for Girardi over Torre, so they should be rejuvenated and Hawkins has been solid in the seventh and eighth innings is whole career. The big question should be obvious do they move Joba out of the pen? If they do then they are taking a big chance on two things, one him being as effective as a starter and two the bullpen picking up the slack with out him in there, if they do not that means two things, one the back end of games are wrapped up for the year, and the starting five are healthy and going strong (Personally, I would not mind Chase Wright or another prospect coming up in case of an injury).
I think Cleveland will fall into their every other year slump ('04 80-82, '05 93-69, '06 74-84,'07 96-66) and Toronto and Anaheim are not ready to make a run at Boston.
The lineup is very strong, centered on Big Papi and Manny in the middle with plenty of veterans and Pedroia and Jacoby making up the rest. Youkilis, Lowell, and Varitek are consistent and will give the Red Sox their usual years. Pedroia and Jacoby should pick up where they left off last year and turn into a one two punch similar to Knoblauch and Jeter for the '98-01 Yankees, but this should last much longer. The big question is how do J.D. Drew and Lugo respond to being brought back after horrible seasons by their standards? They should be more relaxed now at least out of the gate, but early slumps could get the Boston fans on them, how they react to that will be the key to their success.
The pitching staff is very similar to the Yankees (no matter what Slowsky or any of my other Sox fans friends say). Beckett the young ace is more dominant than Wang, but overall there numbers aren't too different. Wakefield the veteran who is the biggest question mark in the rotation is similar to Mussina, Lester and Bucholz are two young pitchers that looked very good last year, kind of like Hughes and Kennedy. Besides Okajima and Papelbohn there are uncertainties in the pen just like Joba and Mo for the Yanks. However, the big question is not whether a reliever should become a starter. It is can Beckett stay healthy? He has had injury problems his whole career and has been hurt throughout the spring.
Rookie of the Year
Adam Jones, outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles. Jones a former number one pick for the Seattle Mariners has had a disappointing career so far in the majors, but after being the key component in the Bedard trade Baltimore obviously has a lot of confidence in him and that should go a long way with a player.
Justin Verlander, another year of experience under his belt and a stronger line-up should get him several more wins to go along with many other impressive numbers.
Ichiro, I picked the M's to win the division which means they need at least 93 wins (in most seasons) and to do this they need someone to hit, so it might as well be the guy who hits .333 and averages 227 hits a season.