American League Preview

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American League Preview
(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

The Major League Baseball season started this month, bringing hope to fans of all 30 professional baseball teams that this might be their year. 

 

AL East

The Yankees were a big disappointment last season as they missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. They have tried to end this issue by spending a lot of money in the offseason by improving their starting rotation in signing CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to long term contracts.  They also should see some increased power production as they  picked up Mark Teixeira.

These moves probably will bring the Yankees some stability during the first few years of these players' deals, but as the players get older, their numbers might decline and make them regret overpaying these three guys a total of $423.5 million during a time when the economy is at its lowest in a long time. 

The Yankees will be opening up a new stadium this season, which cost them over $1.6 billion and will take the place of the stadium that "Babe Ruth built," and had stood since 1923.

The Tampa Bay Rays will be hoping to continue the success they had last season, which ended bittersweet, after losing to the Phillies in the World Series. It was the first time they had won more than 80 in a season, so people will be able to see early on if they are a one-hit wonder. 

They will return pretty much everyone from last season, so they should be even better this season.  One of the players who should play a big role in determining how far the Rays go is Evan Longoria, who will be looking to improve on a very solid rookie season in 2008.

They will be at a big disadvantage, though, as they play in the AL East, which means they will have to fight with the Yankees and Red Sox for the division crown.  Also, in Major League Baseball, a maximum of two teams from a division can make it to October, which might cause a team with a high win total to be sitting at home during postseason play. 

The Boston Red Sox will be hoping to avenge last year’s loss in the American League Championship Series to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox made a lot of moves in the offseason that seem like they could end up being low risk/high reward type transactions. 

Pitching should not be a problem for the Red Sox this year, as they will return four of the five men in their starting rotation and will have Jonathan Papelbon in the back end of the bullpen to close out Red Sox wins. 

The Red Sox offense should also not miss a beat from last season, as they also will return last season’s most valuable player Dustin Pedoria, who will be counted on to continue what he did last season.  Last season, he did it all, by putting up above average numbers in every single offensive category.

The Toronto Blue Jays will have low expectations in 2009, as the media is basically saying that the AL East will be a three team race with the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays.

For Toronto to be a surprise, it will probably depend on the pitching staff.  They do have one of the top pitchers in the American League in Roy Halladay, but after that, they have a lot of question marks, as they lost A. J. Burnett in the offseason to the New York Yankees, who was their number two starter last season. 

They do have a pretty solid outfield, led by Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, but they will need other players to step up if they are going to be able to keep up with the other teams in baseball.

The Baltimore Orioles is a young team that should have no where to go but up. They won 68 games last season, and finished last in the division. The rotation seems to always be their downfall, and on paper looks like it might be yet again.  As the Orioles will be counting on a rookie pitcher out of Japan, Koji Uehara, as their number two starter. The talent level for the Orioles seems like it might finally be there, but if the pitching continues to be mediocre, the Orioles will probably continue that result as well.

 

AL Central

The Chicago White Sox won the wide open AL Central last season, and have pretty much the entire team back.

They did lose their third baseman last season, Joe Crede, which means they will be counting on Josh Fields, who is a youngster with a lot of talent, but little experience.  They also lost a key member of their starting rotation from last season, Javier Vazquez, who was a veteran that seemed to solidify the White Sox' rotation. 

They did have a disappointing end to last season, with a first round playoff exit to Tampa Bay.  They did not have their starting left fielder, Carlos Quentin, during that time, and should be fully healed by the time the regular season begins.

The Minnesota Twins ended last season in a very difficult manner, after losing a one game playoff against the White Sox, which ended up costing them the AL Central crown.  Not many people were expecting the run they had last season, as they were without former Cy Young winner Johan Santana, and Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter, who had been a vital part in the success the Twins had be a part of in the past. 

They will have to overcome some adversity again this season, as All-Star catcher Joe Mauer will start the season on the disabled list with an inflamed right sacroiliac joint.  That will affect them greatly, but they still will have a lot of talent, including Justin Morneau, who had a big season last year, finishing second in the MVP voting in the American League.

The Kansas City Royals have been in the very bottom of the AL Central for years now, but some think that this season they might actually be competitive. 

The Royals have made some pretty solid moves in the offseason, as they have brought in a lot of players who have had success in the past or have a lot of potential.  Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs are two of those players who each will bring an added element that was missing from last year’s team. 

Jacobs hit 32 home runs, but he also had a batting average of .247, to go a long with a lot of strikeouts. Crisp had been very successful throughout his entire career and will bring a new attitude to the Royals with his great speed and defense.

They also have some great young pitchers, such as Gil Meche and Zach Grienke to go along with Joakim Soria, who may be the best closer in the entire American League.

The Cleveland Indians were a major disappointment last season, after missing the playoffs when just the previous year they were one game away from a World Series appearance.  It seems like the bullpen was something they were trying to improve a lot in the offseason, as they added Kerry Wood, who could be a X-factor for the Indians in 2009. 

For the Indians to win the wide open Central Division, they will have to get around the same contributions they received last year out of nowhere from Cliff Lee.  Many people last season felt Lee would be lucky to even make the starting rotation, but he used that as motivation, leading him to winning the Cy Young, meaning he was chosen as the best pitcher in the American League last season.

The Detroit Tigers were another disappointment last season, as they made a lot of blockbuster moves in 2008 by adding Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, and many others to go along with an already stacked lineup, which includes Magglio Ordonez. 

This year will be much different for the Tigers from a standpoint of expectations after the failure they suffered last year.  For this year to be different, like most teams, they will have to get better starting pitching, and hope that the bullpen will be able to hold onto leads.

 

AL West

The Seattle Mariners was expected to be a sleeper team in the division last season, but that quickly turned for the worst, and turned the Mariners into a laughing stock in the whole league by winning only 61 games. 

The problem seemed to be health, which means if they can be healthy this year, they might have the potential to surprise some teams in the AL West. 

It will be a feel good story in Seattle, as Ken Griffey Jr., who started his successful career with the Mariners, will be back to probably end his career at the place he started. 

The potential for the Mariners is in their starting rotation, with Felix Hernadez and Eric Bedard, who when on, can be one of the top one-two punches in the majors.  The key will be the bullpen, as they have lost their closer from the last couple seasons, J.J. Putz, to the Mets in the offseason.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had a very successful regular season last season, as they won the division by 21 games and posted a record of 100-62. 

They have a lot of the nucleus back, but they will be without Francisco Rodriguez, who has been very consistent for the Angels throughout his career.  Last season, Rodriguez had one of the best statistical seasons in history, as he broke the save record with 62 saves. That is more saves than the entire Mariners win total last season. 

They also lost their power hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira, who they acquired at the trade deadline last season from the Braves in the free agent period to the Yankees. 

To try to make up for these big losses, the Angels worked hard in the offseason by adding Brian Fuentes. Fuentes has had some success as a closer with the Rockies, but still, it will be tough to reproduce the production the Angles received last season out of the back end of the bullpen. 

Adversity will be a big story this year for the Angels, as they received even sadder news earlier this month after rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart, whom the Angles had high expectations for, was killed in a car accident. 

The Oakland Athletics made the first big splash of the offseason by adding Matt Holiday, one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball.  It had seemed before the move that the A’s would be in rebuilding mode, but after the Holiday move, it showed that the Athletics might try to sneak up on teams and try to steal the AL West title. 

For the first time in many seasons, the starting pitching might not be the strong point of this club.  Having been able to bring players such as Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Dan Haren out to the mound every five days, has probably spoiled the Oakland fans in recent years. 

It seems like the plan this year was to bring in some veterans to try mix in with the youngsters the Athletics possess. Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra are two of those types of players who will be giving it their all, hoping to finally be able to be the last team standing and having the opportunity to be World Series champs.

The Texas Rangers has been the type of team in recent years where they were only one dimensional.  They could out-slug teams, but they just could not get any quality pitching, which has led them to some mediocre finishes in recent years. They do have a lot of talented hitters, such as Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, but for them to be successful, the pitching will have to finally step up their game.

This is my American League preview, but do not think I forgot a couple teams, because I will have my National League preview in May.

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