AL East: Yankees – This is a team that won 97 games last year. They added Hideki Kuroda, Andy Pettite and Michael Pineda to the rotation. Pineda is starting the year on the DL but to be honest he could be out the entire year and it wouldn’t affect the choice. The one position this team has tons of organizational depth at, besides catcher, is starting pitchers. They scored 867 runs last year with a half-season of Arod and the only offensive players they lost this off-season were an aging/ineffective Jorge Posada and a guy who had less than 70 ABs (Montero).
AL Central: Tigers – Do I even need to explain this one? They scored 787 runs, won the division by 15 games and did it all without newly acquired Prince Fielder and only one-third of a season of Doug Fister. Unless the Royals see HUGE leaps forward by three or four guys AND find a legitimate No. 1 & no. 2 starter between now and opening day nobody will come with a dozen games of them this year. And don’t be surprised if it is more like 20 games.
AL West: Rangers – The Angels made some big splashes this off-season by signing Wilson and Pujols, but none of that is enough to overcome the fact that their offense was horrendous last year. They barely managed to outscore the Mariners, White Sox, A’s and Twins and that says a lot. Adding Pujols helps, getting Kendry Morales back is big but it won’t be enough to catch Texas. They have a deep rotation, a solid bullpen and one of the top three offenses in the game.
AL Wild Card Numero Uno: Rays – Their. Pitching. Is. Deep. As. S***. They literally have about 8 starters who could ALL be in the top 4 of any other rotation. Their defense is crazy, wonkers kind of good. Their offense can be anemic, but it involves a ton of speed and they manage to create runs.
AL Wild Card Numero Dos: Angels – Until I learned their closer was going to spend the bulk of the year on the DL I was going to pick the Red Sox in a nail biter. but that bullpen is a hot mess and their 4th and 5th starters are both pretty big question marks. Los Angeles has significant bullpen issues as well, but they don’t play in a division with the Yanks, Rays and a really, really good Blue Jays team.
AL Champion: Yankees over the Tigers in a tightly contested 7 game series. Be assured though, none of the divisional series will be a cake walk. You can easily argue that the best seven teams in the game reside in the AL (Yanks, Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays and Angels).
NL East: Phillies – I am not betting against that rotation. At least not for one more year. Their offense is hurting, big time. Howard is out for half a year, Utley is at the point he has embarked on the Don Mattingly career trajectory and younger guys have not elevated their game. The bullpen should be much better than last year, not that they’ll get a ton of innings. The Phillies saving grace lies in the fact that their chief rivals have tons of question marks. The Braves offense is putrid and their bullpen logged a metric ton of innings last year. The Nationals rotation is two deep and then over-rated. The Marlins have to see if Johnson & Reyes can stay healthy and even then it might not be enough. Then there is the
NL Central: Brewers – Tough call but I am going with the Brew Crew because of their starting pitching. They won’t have quite the prolific offense they had in the Prince era but it will be good enough to get the job done. The Cardinals will be very good too, loss of Pujols aside. Wainwright makes up for the loss of Carpenter and Jaime Garcia continues to be one of the most criminally under-rated starters in the game.
NL West: Diamondbacks – See Phillies, as in, no competition. They have solid starters, 1 through 3 at least, a decent bullpen and a lineup that can crank out some runs. More importantly though, the Dodgers are in rebuild mode, the Padres are in perennial rebuild mode, the Rockies just named a guy who started the last game in Wrigley before they installed lights to their rotation and San Francisco is flush with pitching but could post a sub-.300 OBP this season while hitting the fewest home runs in all of baseball.
NL Wild Card Numero Uno: Miami – They don’t have enough in the tank to surpass the Phillies, but they do have more than enough to lock down one of the two wild cards. Barring some significant roster upheaval, either due to injuries or the presence of Hurricane Ozzie, they cna find their way into the post-season.
NL Wild Card Numero Dos: Cardinals – The defending world champions have a solid rotation, a good bullpen and should be able to score some runs…loss of Fat Albert aside. Beltran helps offset his loss somewhat and some of their younger starts took big steps forward last year. It won’t be easy, but they should be able to edge out the Braves and the Reds (Reds can’t pitch good enough, Braves can’t hit for bupkus) for the last ticket to the dance.
NL Champion: Phillies over the Brewers in an NLCS that will be billed as an epic pitcher’s duel, yet won’t quite turn out that way. October has a way of giving us the last thing we expect to see (see Game 6 of last year’s Fall Classic).
Who knows how it’s gonna turn out. I just thank the good Lord that opening day is upon us!