The American League, while generally regarded as vastly superior to the National League, only leads the senior circuit in World Series victories this decade 5-4. The AL has won 13 of the past 14 All Star games, but has generally failed to capitalize on the home-field advantage. Last year the Tampa Bay Rays won the AL Pennant, but fell to the Phillies in the World Series in 5 games. Can the AL avenge the loss in 2009?
AL East: Arguably the toughest division in baseball, whichever team comes out on top will likely be the favorite to win the World Series. (* denotes wildcard winner)
1. New York Yankees (95-77): As painful as it is to put them on top, this team simply has too much talent not to win the division, and will be playing with a chip on their shoulder (hold the salsa) after missing out on the postseason last year. The additions of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeria make this one formidable team and A-Rod should have a monster year to silence his critics (who are, at this point, just about everyone).
2. Tampa Bay Rays* (94-78): The Rays were the darlings of baseball last season, and despite having a target on their back the size of Florida, should battle the Yankees till the bitter end. With increased production from young players, the addition of Pat Burrell and a full season of David Price, this year’s Rays may be even better than last season’s version.
3. Boston Red Sox (90-72): While still a talented team, Boston is beginning to show signs of aging, and will need some good luck to stay healthy and competitive. This team full of has-beens (Mike Lowell) and never-weres (Julio Lugo) will crumble down the stretch like Tom Brady’s knee.
4. Toronto Blue Jays (84-78): Just like the Canadian dollar, the Blue Jays are headed south in a hurry. The loss of AJ Burnett will hurt them, as will a schedule full of games against Boston, New York and Tampa Bay. It’s just not their year.
5. Baltimore Orioles (69-93): Maryland has great crab cakes. Maryland does not have a great baseball team. Enjoy another year in the cellar Orioles’ fans.
AL Central: This division is up for grabs, as none of the teams in the division made major strides in the offseason. Not a great division, but pretty consistent from bottom to top.
1. Cleveland Indians (89-73): The Indians vastly underachieved last season, with top players like Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez struggling all year. The team also suffered as the result of a chaotic year from the bullpen which was addressed with the addition of Kerry Wood. Cleveland should get better production from its veterans as well as key contributions from youngsters like Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and Matt Laporta and win a hard fought division crown.
2. Minnesota Twins (86-76): The Twinkies compete year in and year out despite a limited payroll and 2009 will be no different. A lineup led by two-time batting champion Joe Mauer and former MVP Justin Morneau is complemented nicely by a stable of young arms including Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and R.A. DickeyNick Blackburn. Minnesota will enjoy its last season in the Metrodome, but it won’t be enough to push them into the playoffs.
3. Detroit Tigers (84-78): The Detroit Tigers were expected to compete for the World Series last year but bombed worse than a J-Lo movie. The offense was great but the pitching staff was atrocious as newly acquired Dontrelle “D-Train” Willis ran off the track early in the season and never recovered. The team still doesn’t have a closer heading into the season (no offense Brandon Lyon) and will struggle to win close games.
4. Chicago White Sox (82-80): This will finally be the season that costs Ozzie Guillen his job as the Sox will have to fight to finish over .500. A dysfunctional team that somehow got into the playoffs last year, the loss of Orlando Cabrera will hurt this team as will the the rapidly aging Jim Thome and Paul Konerko (who may or may not be dead at the time of this post). The White Sox have some good young arms, but not enough offense to contend.
5. Kansas City Royals (76-86): The K.C. Royals are just like the little engine that could, except they can’t. The perennial laughing stock of the AL Central has made some strides in recent years, but some quizzical offseason moves (Mike Jacobs, Willie Bloomquist, keeping Jimmy Gobble–he of the cartoon character name and 8.81 ERA last season) will keep the Royals mired in mediocrity.
AL West: Bringing up the rear of the AL divisions is the much maligned AL West. This division hasn’t sent a team to the World Series since the Angels miraculous run in 2002, the longest drought of any division in baseball. Don’t expect that to change this year, no team in this division has improved enough to be considered a legitimate contender.
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California U.S. North America Earth (92-70): The Angels ran away with the West last year on the way to winning 100 games but fell to their old nemesis, the Red Sox, in the first round of the playoffs capping off yet another disappointing postseason. The team was hit hard in free agency losing All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez, starting pitcher Jon Garland and 1st baseman Mark Teixeria. The addition of Bobby Abreu should bolster the lineup, but the Angels will likely win the division on the weaknesses of the other teams, rather than their own strengths. Expect another first round exit.
2. Oakland Athletics (84-78): The A’s ditched their usual conservative offseason approach and brought in former MVP Jason Giambi, as well as trading for Colorado’s Matt Holliday. These two bats should bring some life to a punchless offense and give Oakland a shot to contend for the division. The team will be relying heavily on unproven pitchers like Gio Gonzalez, Sean Gallagher and Dallas Braden so the A’s will probably experience quite a few growing pains during the season.
3. Texas Rangers (81-81): Still one of the most prolific offenses in the game (and thanks to A-Rod we finally know why) the Texas Rangers will head into 2009 looking to win games with football scores of 14-13 or 17-10. This team still lacks pitching depth (you know you’re in trouble when Vincente Padilla is your ace) and will win games largely on the strength of Josh Hamilton, Chris “Crush” Davis and Ian Kinsler in the heart of the lineup. The Rangers should be a fun team to watch, but they won’t challenge the Angels.
4. Seattle Mariners (74-88): While the addition of Ken Griffey Jr. adds some hope for the Mariners, the rest of the team offers little guarantee that 2009 will be markedly better than the disastrous 101-loss season last year. Seattle has a solid pitching staff led by the terrific triumvirate of Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard and Brandon Morrow but there are question-marks in the bullpen after the loss of JJ Putz. The lineup will struggle to score runs with no true power hitters in the lineup (only in your dreams Endy Chavez), but should improve somewhat over last season, because quite frankly, it’s pretty hard not to. Enjoy Junior’s return M’s fans; there’s little else to look forward to with this motley crew.
Coming Soon: A Look at the NL!