Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox Will Rule the American League

Kevin MurphyContributor IFebruary 21, 2011

The Red Sox are a threat to win it all this year.
The Red Sox are a threat to win it all this year.Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Unless you're a San Francisco Giants fan, "wait 'till next year" became your motto by last October. If you're a Cubs fan, that's your motto 100 percent of the time. And if we were talking about the National League, perhaps I'd be giving those words more attention.

However, the American League once again seems like the better league going into the 2011 season.

Yes, the Giants and the Phillies have two of the best rotations in all of baseball, but the bats and the majority of the talent seem to reside once again in the Junior Circuit.

How might the 2011 season shake out in the American League? It's hard to say with certainty, but here's one fan's best educated guess:

American League West

Division Champions: Los Angeles Angels

Projected Record: 92-70

The Angels aren't used to playing third fiddle in the American League West. They aren't even used to second fiddle. Look for an improved Angels team to find their way back to the top.

Dan Haren looks ready to go, and the addition of Vernon Wells makes that entire lineup better. These aren't the Angels that will steal bases and go first to third like they used to, however, Wells will likely increase run production from Torii Hunter and a healthy Kendry Morales.

Possible Achilles Heel: The starting rotation. If Ervin Santana can't stay healthy, and Scott Kazmir doesn't return to form, this team might be in trouble.

2nd Place: Texas Rangers

Projected Record: 85-78

Nolan Ryan made a great run at a World Series title last year. However, he did it with a team that doesn't exist anymore. Vladimir Guerrero went to Baltimore, and Cliff Lee went home to Philadelphia. The Rangers did add Adrian Beltre at third and Brandon Webb to the rotation, but Webb isn't 100 percent yet and it is questionable as to whether he will regain his Cy Young form.

Michael Young is still on the team, but is unhappy playing first base. It isn't likely that this Rangers squad will repeat as division champs.

Could be better if: Young falls into a first basemen's role seamlessly and Josh Hamilton and Beltre have career years. This, coupled with some help from Los Angeles, might allow Texas to repeat.

3rd Place: Oakland Athletics

Projected Record: 82-80

Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson are a good 1-2 punch in the rotation. Dallas Braden and Gio Gonzalez have rising stock. And the bullpen is better than last year. With such a good pitching staff, how does this team finish third?

They won't put up the runs. This is shaping up to be the best pitching staff we won't hear about because they won't get any run support. The addition of Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham help, but it won't be enough in the American League West.

Could be better if: Another trade is made to acquire more pop in the lineup. With proper run support, this team could win the division. It just doesn't look likely.

4th Place: Seattle Mariners

Projected Record: 69-93

There's not a whole lot to look forward to in Seattle this year. They might steal a lot of bases with Chone Figgins and Ichiro Suzuki, but they won't steal a lot of games. Figgins has lost a step and doesn't have the on-base percentage to be a looming threat anymore.

Felix Hernandez will be good as usual, but one ace can't carry an entire team. Suzuki will likely become the all-time Mariners hits leader, though, so that's something.

Could be better if: Ichiro Suzuki becomes the first player to have 300 hits in a season and Hernandez is joined by everyone else in the rotation with 15 plus wins. It's not going to happen.

American League Central

Division Champions: Chicago White Sox

Projected Record: 95-67

This team was 88-74 a year ago when dealing with injuries to Jake Peavy and a third baseman who didn't pan out in Mark Teahen. However, with Peavy slated to return by May at the latest, a young gun in Chris Sale, a Mark Buehrle in a contract year and the addition of Adam Dunn, the sky's the limit.

Shortstop Alexei Ramirez is poised for a breakout year and the Pale Hose have the pitching to go the distance with Peavy, Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd. Look for a lot of balls to be flying out of U.S. Cellular Field this year.

Possible Achilles Heel: The bullpen. Bobby Jenks is gone, and so is J.J. Putz. Matt Thornton is good, but closer by committee didn't work so well for the White Sox last year. 

2nd Place: Minnesota Twins

Projected Record: 89-73

The Twins will be good. Just not quite the best. The rotation appears to be healthy, and Joe Nathan looks to be returning to his closer role.

A healthy Justin Morneau will add more pop back to the lineup and provide some protection for Jason Kubel and Joe Mauer. However, they lost some key setup men over the offseason and the rotation isn't what it once was. Francisco Liriano is good, but not the shutdown ace he was expected to be.

Could be better if: The rotation surprises and everyone stays healthy the whole year. Everyone knows that Ron Gardenhire won't allow the Twins to beat themselves...this is a team you have to play to win against.

3rd Place: Detroit Tigers

Projected Record: 87-75

Detroit added a solid backstop with a big bat in Victor Martinez. Justin Verlander, Matt Scherzer and Rick Porcello seem ready for a big year. And the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera.

Or do they?

No one knows for sure what's going to happen with arguably the game's best right-handed hitter. Cabrera's off the field issues might land him an extended run in rehab.

And even if they don't, will the slugger be able to resume business as usual? It's hard to say, but Cabrera aside, the bullpen doesn't look improved and the back of the rotation is suspect. Magglio Ordonez seems to have hit his decline.

Could be better if: Cabrera is business as usual, the bullpen surprises and Ordonez wins comeback player of the year.

4th Place: Kansas City Royals

Projected Record: 79-82

This team will improve. Just not enough to scare anyone. While the Royals can boast one of the best farm systems in baseball, the farm teams still aren't ready to play the likes of Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit on a regular basis.

Brian Bannister will have a much better year, but Zach Greinke is gone, and the lineup still won't put up many runs. Billy Butler is poised to bust out, but with no protection in that lineup, how much damage can he really do?

Could be better if: They get really lucky and the rotation has an awesome year. There is enough speed and young talent on this team to surprise the league if everything goes right. Doubtful.

5th Place: Cleveland Indians

Projected Record: 65-97

Sorry, Cleveland fans. Your run of sports futility is going to continue this season in baseball. Grady Sizemore might make a run at comeback player of the year, and Shin-Soo Choo is the real deal.

But that rotation is dreadful, and Fausto Carmona is inconsistent at best. Travis Hafner appears to be washed up and Matt Laporta isn't likely to pick up that much slack. Rebuilding is the name of the game here.

Could be better if: A miracle resembling Major League comes to pass.

American League East

Division Champions: Boston Red Sox

Projected Record: 99-63

This team is going to be scary. The rotation is raring to go, the bullpen is shored up, and that lineup would make Sandy Koufax shiver.

Adrian Gonzalez. Carl Crawford. A healthy Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz. And don't forget 2007 MVP Dustin Pedroia. No one will want to pitch against this lineup anywhere, but especially in Fenway Park. Once they get a lead, Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks and Jonathan Papelbon will be there to shut the door.

Possible Achilles Heel: Injuries. If Youkilis and Ortiz get hurt, and Jenks can't play set-up role, this team might stumble. The Yankees are always lurking.

2nd Place: New York Yankees

Projected Record: 90-72, Wild Card

They are still the Yankees. They still have C.C. Sabathia, Mark Tiexera and Robinson Cano. Alex Rodriguez will continue his push towards home run history. Mariano Rivera continues to reject Father Time and put up save after save after save.

However, this team didn't improve that much, if at all, in the offseason as they weren't able to make any of the major moves they wanted to. The starting rotation looks shaky. Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett should be solid two and three spots, but there's no way to tell how they will pitch in a stronger A.L. East.

Could be better if: Burnett has a renaissance year and Derek Jeter returns to form. It's always a possibility from the pinstripes.

3rd Place: Tampa Bay Rays

Projected Record: 83-79

They won't be bad. But the Rays don't look to be very good, either.

They lost Carl Crawford to their division rivals and lost Carlos Pena to the Cubs, and replaced them with the declining Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon.

In addition, Matt Garza is gone. Andy Sonnanstine will likely be better and David Price is still All-Star material, but too many pieces of the puzzle left without being adequately replaced. The Rays don't look like a contender this year.

Could be better if: Evan Longoria continues to rake (he will), Manny Ramirez wins comeback player of the year (he won't) and James Shields wins 20 games (he won't).  

4th Place: Toronto Blue Jays

Projected Record: 75-87

Don't expect Jose Bautista to hit above 50 home runs again. In fact, don't expect him to hit 30.

Vernon Wells is off to California, and the loss of that protection will drop his numbers significantly.

Adam Lind will have a decent year,  but Lyle Overbay also took off for Pittsburgh and the Jays won't be leading the majors in home runs again this year. Shane Marcum is a Brewer now. One thing to watch for: Ricky Romero. This guy is gearing up for a big year and could garner Cy Young consideration.

Could be better if: So many pieces didn't leave for greener pastures. 

5th Place: Baltimore Orioles

Projected Record: 73-89

This was a tough call as neither the Orioles nor the Blue Jays look poised for a special season.

The addition of Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee are nice, but probably not enough to push the Orioles out of the cellar.

Luke Scott will continue to produce, and look for Nick Markakis to have a better year than he had in 2010.

Brad Bergesen will improve and Jeremy Guthrie will still be solid, but there's nothing special about the 2011 Orioles. They still don't have a solid closer and they are lacking star power throughout the lineup with the exception of Guerrero.

Could be better if: Scott, Markakis and Guerrero are all 30/100 guys. Not likely.


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