With the start of the baseball season less than one week away (yes, a week , with Red Sox vs. Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball), it means only thing: It is time to dust off the magic eight-balls, look into the future, and predict where the 30 teams will end up at the end of the season.
(I should point out that I won a pool last season in which we made predictions about the 2009 season before its start, and so needless to say, when I use the word "prediction" I really mean "certifiable locks and spoilers" for the 2010 season.)
Let's start with the American League East:
1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toronto Blue Jays
Yes, I know the Yankees are defending champs, and they had a great 2009 season. But I am not impressed with the moves that they made to stay atop the best division in baseball. CBSSports.com has the Yankees, Sox, and Rays as the top three teams in baseball heading into Opening Day, and with those other teams, the Yankees needed to do better than Javier Vasquez and Curtis Granderson .
Vasquez will disappoint again as he did during his first tour in New York (he's simply an N.L. pitcher) and Granderson has to fill the roles of three outfielders (Johnny Damon , Hideki Matsui , and Melky Cabrera —also with no Xavier Nady returning). As for the rest of the team, well, this year simply makes them one year older.
The Sox will indeed have enough offense to back the best all-around pitching staff in baseball. The Rays remain essentially the same, but will get more from Pat Burrell and B.J. Upton . The Orioles have good, but raw, young talent (this will be Adam Jones ' coming out party), enough to leapfrog the Blue Jays out of last place, who will be the designated whipping-boy of the mighty A.L. East.
1. Minnesota Twins
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Kansas City Royals
Traditionally a mediocre division, the Central is shaping up to be...well, mediocre, again . Last year, the Twins made a late run to win the division last season, and they have improved by adding players such as Orlando Hudson , and have enough to overcome the loss of closer Joe Nathan . (This only means that the Twins will not have to wait to the last day of the season to win the division with only 85 wins.)
The White Sox have gotten better with a very strong rotation headed by Mark Buerhle and Jake Peavy . But their success is not automatic, with Buerhle falling off after his perfect game, and Peavy struggling from injuries recently. And offensively, they will be forced to rely on busts (Alex Rios ), aging veterans (Paul Konerko , Andruw Jones ), and still developing youngsters (Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez ) to fill in around Carlos Quentin .
Detriot remains a couple of starters away from the playoffs, while Cleveland and Kansas City will compete for "quickest A.L. team to 100 losses."
1. Seattle Mariners
2. Texas Rangers
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
4. Oakland Athletics
Possibly the most interesting and exciting division in baseball in 2010. The Mariners stand as one of the most improved teams in all of baseball, adding Cliff Lee , Chone Figgins , and Casey Kotchman . The Lee-Felix Hernandez one-two punch is one of the best in baseball.
The Rangers also figure to be stronger, with ample pitching and an always impressive offense. But, perhaps most importantly for the Mariners and Rangers is what is absent from the Angels, long the dominant team in this division.
They lost depth everywhere, but remain the same fundamental team of the small ball philosophy, which can always prove to be difficult to play against in September. They have a decent lineup, but no power outside of Kendry Morales , and Matsui and Joel Pineiro were not the solutions to the holes in the lineup and rotation left by Figgins and John Lackey , and their bullpen also remains an issue.
As for Oakland, not all is as bad as it seems. They have serious young pitching depth and their first real base stealer/ lead-off hitter since Rickey Henderson in Rajai Davis . They, like the Orioles, are definitely moving in the right direction, but luckily for the Athletics they play in sunny California in the now suddenly wide-open A.L. West, which could start to attract a free-agent bat or two.
A.L. Wild Card:
New York Yankees
Is there any chance that the Wild Card will come out of any division besides the A.L. East in the foreseeable future? I really cannot envision a situation where that would come about. Although the Rangers and White Sox may be worthy of postseason play, there is no way that two teams from the Central or West will win more games than either the Sox, Yankees, or Rays. Whoever wins the East should do so with around 100 wins, where the second place team will likely have at least 95, and that is just too many games for anyone else to keep pace.
Red Sox vs. Twins
Mariners vs. Yankees
These teams match up well with each other, but it comes down to the Red Sox and Yankees having more talent in the bottom half of their roster. The Twins do not have the depth in the rotation to hang with Boston, and the Yankees' overpowering style of offense will lead to another ALCS rivalry.
Result: Red Sox, Yankees, both in four
Red Sox vs. Yankees
The two best teams in the A.L. will feature two of the best rotations in baseball. The Yankees have the advantage on the offensive side, but the Red Sox have the pitching depth. The Yankees would likely have to use CC Sabathia twice in the ALDS, while the Sox can afford to only use their starters once, which means that the Beckett/Lackey/Lester order is preserved for this series. The Sox bullpen is also stronger, as is their bench.
Result: Red Sox in six