When a deadline approaches for members of the United Cardinal Bloggers, we take it seriously. Once the deadline passes, and we have failed to meet said deadline, then we all get serious about taking deadlines seriously. Eventually we reach a point where someone basically has to force one of us to take one for the team and finish what should have been started days earlier. Well, we’ve reached that point, and I am that “one of us”. I’m going to attempt to cover all 3 divisions of the American League in a single post. Wait for it…..
Wait for it…..
AL East – The ALE represents the class of the field. Best in show. Top of the baseball food chain. It certainly stands as the only division capable of fielding 4 teams that play .500 baseball or better. Competition is fierce, because very little separates the top 4 teams in terms of talent. The division is so loaded that some people have even discussed the possibility that the division will be represented by 3 teams in the playoffs. I am not those people.
- New York Yankees (94-68). Despite the injury to Joba Chamberlain (see also: large men on bouncy trampolines), Yankees have not changed enough since last year to warrant a drop in the rankings. While the likelihood of Curtis Granderson regressing just a bit exists, there also exists a similar chance that guys like Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, and Brett Gardner improve their numbers this season. Jorge Posada‘s retirement clears a spot for players to move in and out of the DH role, so that gives the team added flexibility in sculpting the roster. Beyond that, few notable things have changed. Alex Rodriguez can still catch up to fastballs and whip them into the seats. Jeter can still teeter around in the area between 2nd and 3rd base, and he can still win praise for his defense. Most importantly, Mariano Rivera can just keep doing what he’s been doing for years which is to shut teams down with one pitch.
- Boston Red Sox (92-70). They may not have the pitching staff sorted out completely, but they will run Carl Crawford out almost every day, and Crawford has the potential to move the needle on the offensive juggernaut in Beantown just a bit. They may not be more talented than the 2011 version, but they could win a few more games.
- Tampa Bay Rays (89-73). The Rays could easily win close to 90 games and not even be in a race the final week of the season. On the other hand, the Rays could win close to 90 games and be there on the final day. Either way, it is difficult to pick them NOT to make the playoffs, because the team appears loaded again. As much bringing back Carlos Pena seems like a good idea, he simply may not provide enough of a boost on offense. If everybody stays healthy, they have as good a chance as anybody to take the division, but they are already starting to plan for a brief absence of B.J. Upton. For a team that needs to stay in the thick of things from the start, that seems like a tough first step.
- Toronto Blue Jays (79-83). In just about any other division, the Jays could probably be an 85-win team or better. A very underrated pitching staff and a offense that doesn’t slouch much provide the Jays with a legitimate contender….outside the AL East. Still, the depth in the division makes for an awful lot of good baseball, and that’s what the season is all about.
- Baltimore Orioles (67-95). Being the punching bag for an entire division cannot be fun, but give credit to the Orioles for not putting away their toys and going home. While they may only have a puncher’s chance in any given inter-division series, they can make it interesting. Just ask the Red Sox about the end of last season.
AL Central – Picking a an early favorite should not be the issue here. Ranking the rest of the teams provides a much greater challenge.
- Detroit Tigers (97-65). It might be extremely difficult to take a 95-win team and improve upon it, but the Tigers sure appear to be giving it a shot. With a pitching staff led by Justin Verlander, they have just enough starting pitching in Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello to get to a reasonably competent bullpen anchored by Jose Valverde. Since this team might score 4 runs on a bad day, I find it difficult to imagine not the Tigers not finishing the season a good 100 runs to the good in the plus/minus category.
- Cleveland Indians (85-77). Based on a random sampling of discussions, I believe that the Indians have the most underrated bullpen in baseball. Simply put, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, and Chris Perez were not exactly household names in much of the country last season. However, this team should not be taken lightly, especially if Ubaldo Jimenez finds the 2010 version of himself (or even the 2009 one).
- Kansas City Royals (81-81). Maybe blind optimism deserves a chance here. The Royals’ successful stockpiling of young, talented players may finally be paying off. Guys like Eric Hosmer (age 21), Billy Butler (25), Alcides Escobar (24), Alex Gordon (27), and Mike Moustakas (22) combine to form a solid core of under-30 talent which may be the envy of the league. If only the pitching staff was as polished as the position players, we might be talking about the Royals in truly competitive terms. Still, a rise to .500 means respectability now and a promise of better things to come.
- White Sox (74-88). If it looks like a rebuild and sounds like a rebuild, then it’s a duck, baby. The White Sox represent the antithesis of the Royals. Honestly, the average age for the team may have risen after Mark Buehrle signed elsewhere, and he was no spring chicken. The team possess a few nice, complementary pieces, but it lacks a driving force or two that could make it better.
- Minnesota Twins (69-93). If it was not for bad luck, the Twins would probably have no luck at all. Signing Josh Willingham helps, but the Twins obviously need a lot from the $37M they are spending on Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau this season.
AL West – You might have heard about a few free agents that signed with the Angels during the off-season. If not, then you probably need better satellite tv reception under your rock. The addition of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson should make the Angels a lot better. The real question is “How much better?”
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (95-67). Back and forth, forth and back. The choice between the Angels and the Rangers here came down to a single number – 188. That was the difference in runs scored between the 2 teams in 2011. Texas scored a whopping 855 runs while allowing only 677. The Angels scored 667 while surrendering just 633 runs. Texas may very well score 850+ runs again, but I have doubts about the Rangers holding opponents to less than 700 runs scored. On the other hand, the Angels may score something closer to 725+ runs, and they may allow fewer than 600. Texas may win the battle of run differential again, but the Rangers may lose the war over the division. Not that it matters all that much, though.
- Texas Rangers (92-70). When a team can afford the luxury of staying “undecided” on whether Alexi Ogando should be a starter or a reliever, then that team has fewer problems than most. The bellwether for the Rangers hopes is probably the number of games they get out of Josh Hamilton. It isn’t that they can’t play well enough without him, but a healthy Hamilton adds a certain swagger to the Rangers. His health may have cost them the World Series last year, and they know it. Get Hamilton into 140+ games territory, and they have serious playoff aspirations, and I wouldn’t bet against them to reach the last best of 7 series yet again.
- Seattle Mariners (68-94). The Mariners look pretty bad on paper, but that’s only because the A’s look like they might be even worse. While batting average tells only a portion of the story, the portion it told of the 2011 Mariners was truly pathetic. Only 1 player with 300 or more plate appearances hit better than .275, and that lone bastion was utility player Mike Carp who managed a .276 average in 313 plate appearances. The team looks just about as promising this season.
- Oakland A’s (61-101). I cannot recall the part of Moneyball that discusses rebuilding a team that hasn’t finished a season better than .500 since 2006, but maybe that part appears in “Moneyball 2 – We Haven’t Lost 100 Recently”. Since the dismantling includes Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez departing while the team throws big money at Yoenis Cespedes, it appears that the “sign Cuban defector to play center field in place of the guy already signed to play center field” approach has been selected.
If I’ve done my math correctly, it would seem that I have just picked the Yankees, Tigers, and Angels to win the divisions, and the wild card spots go to the Red Sox and Rangers. Not exactly rocket surgery quality work, but sometimes you just need a regular hammer for a small nail.
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