I do not have the time to write up a full preview of this year's MLB season, which began in rousing fashion with last night's Sox come-from-behind victory over those dastards from the Bronx. Nonetheless, here are predictions for the American League with brief commantary that is all sure to be wrong. I hope to follow with the NL as soon as practical, hopefully before I leave for DC.
1. Red Sox: Look, by now you should be used to homer picks from me. But since I've been writing dcat, there has never been a year when picking the Sox to succeed has exactly been pie-in-the-sky stuff. The narrative for this year's Sox is pretty well set: They decided to go with pitching and defense at the expense of offense, as indicated by letting Jason Bay sign with the star-crossed Mets and placing Mike Cameron in center field and Adrian Beltre at third. And this is true for what it is worth. But they also upgraded at shortstop on O and D by bringing in Marco Scutaro from the Blue Jays, who had a peculiarly late-blooming career year at the plate. Meanwhile, they went and added Angels ace (the word "bulldog" usually accompanies most descriptions) John Lackey. The fact is, the Red Sox will be in the top five and maybe better in offense in the American league, and whatever drop-off they have at the plate will be more than countered by runs saved on the mound and in the field. Thus their Pythag prediction should have them projecting out to more than 95 wins, and 95 wins is always the target on Yawkey Way. Obviously we worry about Big Papi's bat -- will he be the hitter of April, May and October of last year, or will he be the guy who pounded the ball in June, July, August and September? The answer to this question will go a long way in determining just how much offensive dropoff the Sox experience.
2. Yankees*: Trust me, I wanted to go with the Rays here, and the Rays are a popular choice not only to make the playoffs, but in some circles to win the East. And the Yankees have holes -- their D is not all that good. Their bullpen bridge to Rivera is far from secure, and Joba Chamberlain throwing 93 mph is a long way from him throwing 99 mph. One always assumes that they will get old. But that team can bash. It has enough starting pitching to be competitive on most nights. They seem to be nearly everyone's choice to repeat, and the middle of that lineup is going to pucker the sphincters of a lot of pitchers in the American League. But they have some holes that their supporters do not want to acknowledge even if their detractors (allo guvnah!) play them up too much.
3. Rays: This is an absurdly precocious bunch. And if they all peak at the right time, they could be an even better team than they were two years ago when they went to the World Series. But in this crazy game as much goes wrong as goes right for even the best teams, and I just don't think that Tampa has given themselves a depth of experienced talent that will be able to compete day-n-and-day-out with the Sox and Yanks. That said, I kept expecting them to fold two years ago and it never happened. If they are there in September they just might be there through October. The rest of the country gets sick of hearing it, but goodness, the AL East is loaded, and yet these teams still win 95 or so games a year.
4. Orioles: Another team that has embraced a youth movement, the O's are, simply enough, victims of geography. That's not going to change any time soon. If this team can win some games it will revive what has historically been a pretty good fan base. But when they play the Sox at Camden Yards it becomes Fenway South, and it turns into the Southern Toilet when New York is in town. Win games, fill stands, make money, get better players. That's a blueprint for every team in baseball, of course, but is vital in the AL East with the two leviathans and the upstart Rays.
5. Blue Jays: This was a team that seemed to be on the rise three years ago. I suppose they can find solace in the fact that in most divisions they would not be slotted in to last place. In this one however, if a lot goes right they can pick off the Orioles. That's a rousing thought when trying to inspire a ticket base.
1. Twins: Every year Minnesota is in it to win it. If by "It" we mean the American League Central. In a world where everyone now plays Moneyball (the rich Red Sox every bit as much as any small market team) they still actually have to try to find ways to exploit inefficiencies in the market because they have little money to spend. The new outdoor facility should be a boon to them -- though would you want to attend a game there in October? -- as will be signing hometown All American Boy Joe Mauer to a lengthy extension that all but assures that all of his important years are spent in a Twins uniform. Yeah, losing Joe Nathan is tough, but what does Moneyball tell us about closers? This will be a competitive, if somewhat mediocre, division. the winner might emerge with only 90 wins. I think the Twins will hit that target first.
2. Tigers: Look at that lineup. Pretty cobbled together -- Damon and Ordonez and Cabrera and Everett all have come in from elsewhere in the last year or two. Dontrelle Willis has claimed their third starter spot, which could be a sign of redemption or of desperation. Yet Jim Leyland has this team in a position to compete every day, and they have done so for three years now, playing the role of the Rays before the Rays did.
3. White Sox: I have to admit, the idea of the Windy City Madman having a Twitter account and the wherewithal to use it was almost enough to inspire me to figure out how the hell Twitter works. Almost. This team will frustrate the hell out of Guillen all summer as they struggle to reach 80 wins. That should make for fun reading, assuming you are not sensitive to profanities.
4. Indians: Remember when these guys were one win away from winning the American League and thus getting to face the Rockies and likely winning the World Series in 1997? Yeah, it seems like a long time ago. Maybe Fausto Carmona will return to form. Travis Hafner too. But it's probably going to be a long year at the Jake.
5. Royals: The Royals. it will surprise you to hear, will probably not be very good in 2010. Wash, rinse, repeat.
1. Rangers: I suppose this could be seen as a surrogate homer pick since I have lived in Texas for nearly six years. I think the West is going to be wide open. Seattle is a trendy pick. The Angels are the safe pick. The A's are no one's pick. I thought last summer that the Rangers were one year away. By that math it's one year later. That pitching staff will be legitimately decent. The bats will rebound from a disappointing 2009. Neftali Feliz is about to make the leap at the back of the pen. The only reservation I have about the Rangers is the one I have always had: Do you know how freaking hot it gets in Texas for the entirety of the summer? It's 90+ today in West Texas and it's not uncharacteristic. DFW might be mildly cooler, but there will be a ton of 100 degree days in Arlington this year. Try playing in that weather every home game for three (or more) months straight.
2. Angels: The Angels are always good. And they got over the hump of beating the Red Sox in the postseason last year. But they intentionally got a lot older in the offseason (Matsui and Abreu and Hunter -- oh my!) while losing the closest thing thay had to an ace in Lackey. Plus I hate small ball. Though they will have a harder time playing it this year. I may well be most wrong on this one, but I think the Angels might be fighting for third this year.
3. Mariners: If you want to talk about run prevention over run scoring, don't look to Fenway, look to the trendy choice to win the West, which plays at Safeco. But look at that lineup. Eesh. Milton Bradley is slotted in as their cleanup hitter. Ruminate on that for a few minutes and get back to me as to how they win the West.
4. A's: Don't think that Moneyball has been discredited just because Billy Bean is no longer using duct tape and chewing gum to cobble together a team that wins 95 games and the AL West every year. the rest of the league caught up with them. It's harder to exploit inefficiencies when the rest of the league knows what those inefficiencies are, can pay for them, and can pay for stars, the lack of whom led to Moneyball (Not Billy Bean's coinage -- you knew that, right?) in the first place. But, yeah, the A's are going to get last in this division.
* Denotes Projected Wild Card Winner
Sox over Twins
Yanks over Rangers
Sox over Yanks (What, you expected something else?)