Do we really care what happens in the American League outside of individual players’ impact on our fantasy baseball teams? Probably not. But in the name of being thorough, the following is CityBeat’s prediction of the entire softball-style AL. We even looked up a couple guys who play for the Royals, just to be fair.
1. Boston Red Sox — John Smoltz, Rocco Baldelli, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito. The Red Sox would probably be favored to win this division without all of these players attempting to come back from injuries. Most of them are close too. The Yankees continue spending money to make up for the work Boston has done growing its own talent, but the Sox are still way ahead.
2. New York Yankees — The additions of C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira cost a lot of money. The starters give New York one of the strongest front ends of any rotation in baseball, and the blossoming Joba Chamberlain could be a big boost. Arod’s weird injury only slightly slows down an offense that will score its share of runs. Still, the last few years have proved that the Yankee-purchased All-Star team doesn’t hold up across 162 games. They’re still the Wild Card favorite though.
3. Tampa Bay Rays — We mean no disrespect by predicting the reigning AL champs to finish third, but what are we going to do? The Rays are a solid all-around team that plays good baseball and wins close games. Their decision to change their name and get new hats was a very good move, but we still don’t know what Rays they’re talking about. Rays of sunshine would be a good name.
4. Toronto Blue Jays — The Jays are looking a little rough heading into 09, having lost their No. 2 starter and about 5 mph off their closer’s fastball. Life sucks in the AL East, but Toronto has some young players who could aid the transition from good-team-that-couldn’t-win-the-division to decent-team-that-can’t-wint-the-division. Trading Roy Halladay for a package of young players will be the right move come July.
5. Baltimore Orioles — Oh Baltimore, it is hard being you. And investing in position players rather than trading for young pitching is no way to change things. The Orioles have some talented young outfielders — Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Luke Scott — but they need a serious influx of arms before they’re going to move ahead of anyone in this division.
1. Minnesota Twins — The Central is a difficult division to predict this year, but the Twinkies’ starting rotation separates them from the White Sox and Indians. With Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey, Minnesota has a solid front-end, and the team benefits from one of the best closers in the game in Joe Nathan. And based on the Twins’ history, we have to assume there are more arms waiting to step up.
2. Chicago White Sox — The South Siders lost one of their most productive arms to free agency when Javier Vazquesz signed with the Braves, but they return with a number of serious mashers. Jermaine Dye, Carlos Quentin, Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Alexei Ramirez make for a formidable batting order (despite certain people’s ages). Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd and John Danks are solid, and Bartolo Colon could be the wild card. We expect the Sox to compete for the division championship, especially if the relievers repeat some of last year’s numbers.
3. Cleveland Indians — The Indians have proved that they’re one of the fastest rebuilding organizations in the game, having made runs at the AL championship with numerous different collections of players during the last 15 years. But this year the tribe has too many question marks — Can Fausto Carmona have another year like 2007? Is Carl Pavano still a Major Leaguer? — to expect them to overtake Chicago, though an expected improvement from last year’s 81-81 record would have Cleveland sniffing the postseason race.
4. Kansas City Royals — On paper, the Royals look a lot like the Tampa Bay Rays, only a much less talented version. The lineup looks functional, with good averages, speed and power where it's supposed to be, and the top two starters are pretty good. But if the Royals are going to contend they’re going to need another big hitter and starter.
5. Detroit Tigers — Things are not good in Detroit, and it’s not just the city’s blighted inner city and nearly defunct industries. The Tigers’ rotation is just OK, with a couple dudes coming off injuries and former ace Dontrell Willis training on his own (possibly for a future in the Cape Cod League), and the bullpen has no good option at closer until Joel Zumaya returns from the DL. Not good.
1. California Angels (of Anaheim, Orange County, California, U.S.A) — The Angels should easily win this division with their superior starting pitching, newly revamped bullpen and solid offense. No other team in the West comes close to the quality and depth of the Angels in any category (OK, Texas’ offense).
2. Texas Rangers — Boy, the AL West is seriously weak. Texas’ offense is pretty great, but they are making a serious run at worst rotation west of the Mississippi. But because the Rangers play in the Western Division, they’ll have a leg up on the unavoidable 11-10 contests.
3. Seattle Mariners — The M’s were bad last year. They’ll be better this year if Erik Bedard stays healthy, though he could be traded midseason. Seattle’s offense is pretty old.
4. Oakland Athletics — The A’s are known for throwing young talent onto the field and watching it grow up quickly. But injuries have already affected this not-so-deep club. With staff ace Justin Duchscherer out until May, the A’s will have a hard time looking like more than a group of September call-ups. They’ll get a nice return on Matt Holliday when they trade him midseason.
The Red Sox beat the Twins and the Angels take down the Wild Card Yankees in the ALDS, with Boston beating the Angels and moving on to the World Series and beating whatever hokey team gets out of the NL.