It's that time again.
American League East (predicted order of finish and records)
New York Yankees (98-64) – The defending champs come into 2010 with a potentially better overall team than the one that won it all last year. Younger and more athletic, their lineup is still held together by the star-studded duo of Rodriguez and Teixeira, along with a plethora of extremely potent supporting offensive players.
The rotation is as deep and veteran-laden as its been in years, and a bullpen that came up big in the postseason is still held tight by Rivera at the back end. Without major distraction or injury, the Yankees are easily the best team in baseball, and are poised to repeat as champions.
Boston Red Sox (93-69) – At first glance, the Red Sox seem to be a team that might be missing a piece here or there in some part of their roster, but when it’s all said and done, Boston puts forth one of the premier products in all the league. Their lineup is definitely one to be reckoned with, featuring a core of Youkilis and Martinez.
Also, they shored up their rotation and stayed away from low-risk, high-reward signings as they did last season. Nonetheless, the Sox are one of the best teams in baseball, and are well on their way to a fourth straight playoff appearance.
Tampa Bay Rays (87-75) – The Rays have tried everything to overcome the Yankees and Red Sox in this division, and though they did for one season two years back, they don’t have much to show for their efforts.
They are easily among the more talented teams in the American League, with a lineup featuring Longoria, Crawford, and one of the bigger breakout stars of 2009, Ben Zobrist. If they fall out of contention early, expect a Rays’ fire sale, but with the cluster of young talent that Tampa Bay can roll out there on an everyday basis, the Rays will surely find themselves in the postseason hunt this year.
Toronto Blue Jays (72-90) – A team that many consider a last-place lock may surely be that in their first season after trading Roy Halladay, but they do get a number of young pitchers back from injury to complement a lineup with several budding stars in Hill and Lind.
They’re starting from scratch with a new GM and a new baseball philosophy, but Toronto is still a team that plays fourth (or fifth) fiddle to the three powerhouses that have established themselves in the AL East. In any case, this season, and possibly the next few will be all about the future for baseball’s north of the border dwellers.
Baltimore Orioles (70-92) – A team that has caught on as a trendy pick in the estimation of many doesn’t rank as high on my totem. Undoubtedly, this team has several young stars in Jones, Markakis, and Wieters, but the rest of their lineup is chock full of misfits and over the hill veterans. Their pitching did improve a little bit, but is still nowhere close to where it needs to be for this team to flirt with playing .500 baseball this season.
To me, the O’s seem to be making progress, but when all is said and done, they’re just a team with a lame-duck manager with players that are still too raw for the majors.
American League Central (predicted order of finish and records)
Minnesota Twins (91-71) – The Twins, who won this division last year, carry a ton of momentum into 2010. They have the AL MVP, and one of baseball’s best players in Joe Mauer, return Morneau back from injury, and have a tremendous supporting cast around them in the lineup, as it will be interesting to see how their home field advantage will change in their new outdoor ballpark.
Their starting pitching is certainly a bit lax, but still solid enough, and though they have lost their closer Joe Nathan for the season, that injury is not nearly enough to keep the Twins from winning this weak division.
Kansas City Royals (81-81) – A surprise pick here in second place of the AL Central, but I think that the teams in this division are so watered-down, that basically anything can happen after Minnesota. The top of their rotation cannot be questioned with the reigning Cy Young Zack Greinke at the top, and they also possess some of the more underrated offensive players in the division in Billy Butler and David DeJesus.
Their bullpen is certainly solid, and though this is a prediction that can go horribly wrong, I still like Kansas City’s chances to stay in contention late into the to summer’s dog days and into the start of fall.
Chicago White Sox (80-82) – Always the most talented team on paper in the AL Central, the White Sox seem to exemplify mediocrity coming into 2010. To their credit, they were certainly aggressive in the off-season, but their priorities may not have been keenly directed.
Their lineup looks a bit old, and they seemed to go for the quick fix mentality with guys like Rios and Pierre. Their rotation is very good, in fact, it’s one of the better ones in the American League. We could see a nice bounce back year for the White Sox, but anything is possible with a loose cannon like Guillen and an aging group for Chicago.
Detroit Tigers (80-82) – I’m not sure I have soured on a team more than I have on the Tigers coming into this season, mainly because of the way they absolutely gagged away a division title last year. They essentially traded away a number of good young assets, and didn’t do a very good job replacing them, but this team still has the pieces to be a factor in this division.
Their rotation is full of question marks, and their lineup is much weaker without a spark-up like Granderson. I could certainly see the Tigers winning 80+ games, but it is much more likely that we will see an utter disaster in Detroit this season.
Cleveland Indians (68-94) – One year after a huge fire sale for Cleveland, this team has fallen from a contender to a cellar dweller here in 2010. Their financial concerns have cornered them into a complete overhaul and made it a certainty that the next few seasons would be all about rebuilding and new beginnings, characterized best by their bringing in of a new manager, Manny Acta.
Their lineup isn’t half bad as long as Hafner and Sizemore stay healthy, but their pitching is really in shambles. I see no reason why the Indians would crawl back into contention this year, as last place is a virtual lock for Cleveland.
American League West (predicted order of finish and records)
Seattle Mariners (90-72) – Without a doubt, the Mariners are the most improved team in baseball coming into 2010. Adding Figgins, Bradley, and Lee to what was an above average team last year makes them a sure-fire contender, especially since Ichiro and King Felix remain as mainstays for Seattle.
They may have trouble scoring runs, but their lineup features about seven players who could hit .300, and the 1-2 punch in the rotation is second to none in baseball. They’re certainly going for it now after this off-season spending spree, as it will pay off when the Mariners coast to a division title in the AL West.
Los Angeles Angels (86-76) – The Angels said farewell to too many core veteran pieces to four-peat as AL West champions this year, but still have a respectable squad that should be able to hang around late into the season. Their overall lineup isn’t as scary as its been when the Halos were at their peak, and their rotation is shoddy and doesn’t really have a bona fide ace.
The one thing going against this prediction is that the Angels, no matter who they have, seem to find a way to get it done. However, this team is no longer the runaway class of this division; they will certainly come back down to earth in 2010.
Texas Rangers (80-82) – Their commitment to rebuilding turned around a lot quicker than expected, and though they did come within a few games of fighting for a division crown last year, this edition of the Rangers, especially in the pitching department is not nearly as imposing as the upbeat bunch that won 87 games last year.
They will certainly be able to hit, but there are injury-prone players up and down this lineup, not to mention they’ll be in a division that is improved this season. Team president Nolan Ryan predicted 92 wins this year, but with such a lousy rotation, playing. 500 ball might not even happen.
Oakland Athletics (68-94) – Few remember when the A’s had a loaded lineup full of veterans and a one through three that no one could match in all of baseball. Well they’re nothing close to that anymore, and it seems like they are submerged in full rebuilding mode for the foreseeable future.
They’re still unwilling to spend, and it shows with the lack of talent and the excuse for a team that will be playing in the Bay Area this year. “Moneyball” has reached an impasse, to be generous, but this team will be lucky to avoid the 100-loss mark in what will be their fourth straight season without a postseason appearance
All American League First Team
C - Joe Mauer, Minnesota
1B - Mark Teixeira, New York
2B - Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay
SS - Derek Jeter, New York
3B - Alex Rodriguez, New York
OF - Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay
OF - Torii Hunter, Los Angeles
OF - Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle
SP - Felix Hernandez, Seattle
SP - CC Sabathia, New York
SP - Zack Greinke, Kansas City
RP - Mariano Rivera, New York
RP - Jonathan Papelbon, Boston
All American League Second Team
C - Victor Martinez, Boston
1B - Kevin Youkilis, Boston
2B - Ian Kinsler, Texas
SS - Jason Bartlett, Tampa Bay
3B - Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay
OF - Nelson Cruz, Texas
OF - Curtis Granderson, New York
OF - Adam Jones, Baltimore
SP - Justin Verlander, Detroit
SP - Cliff Lee, Seattle
SP - Jon Lester, Boston
RP - Joakim Soria, Kansas City
RP - Brian Fuentes, Los Angeles