American League East Preview

Because games are won on the field, not on paper.

Everybody on the planet picks the Boston Red Sox to run away with the AL East. I don’t think it will be that easy. First of all, subtracting Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre while adding Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez is not a huge upgrade; it’s a wash at best. Sox fans already have Gonzalez in the Hall of Fame because of Fenway’s dimensions. We’ve heard this nonsense before (George Scott, Cecil Copper, Mo Vaughan). AG seems like a nice guy, but he’d better not be an NL fraud or the Boston media will eat him alive. And Josh Beckett needs to return to form or he’s the hors d’oeuvre. The Sox were good enough to win last year, but didn’t. The key won’t be the new guys; it will be health. If Ellsbury, Pedroia, and Youkllis avoid the DL, things should work out, though only if Ellsbury and Pedroia are more than flashes in the pan; they need to be .300 hitters, not .265 guys and I suspect that’s what they are. Will Boston squeeze another year from David Ortiz? Will either catcher break .230? Jon Lester is a Cy Young waiting to happen, but there are question marks. Will Bucholtz repeat his 2010 performance? Is too much being asked of Daniel Bard? Will Pabelbon or Matsuzaka show up? And I said it last year and will say it again: John Lackey is woefully overrated. The pressure is on. This team is either as good as the experts say, or it’s an expensive folly.

Lest we forget, the Tampa Rays are the reigning division champs. Personally I don’t think they’ve lost as much as has been claimed. Other than Soriano, the bullpen guys were spare parts and any day you can subtract Carlos Pena whilst adding Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon must be considered a plus. Matt Garza wasn’t going to last on this staff, so he won’t be missed that much either. Do you like a staff of Price, Davis, Hellickson, Shields, and Niemann? I sure do. The pen is a big concern though. Kyle Farnsworth shouldn’t throw anything more than batting practice and when he’s in the game, opponents get a lot of batting practice! The lineup isn’t fearsome, but it’s solid. Let us not forget the AL’s best third baseman: Evan Longoria. Shortstop might be a problem--word out of Florida is that Brignac is a bust.

What about the New York Yankees? Can you say no joy in Bronxville? I look for the Yankees to tumble hard. This will be the year that the Reaper finally lets us know that the future of Posada, Jeter, Mighty Mo Rivera, and A-Rod is the past. The Yankees might be glad if Sabathia opts out; his surgically repaired knee doesn’t look good so far this spring. There’s plenty of hope for the future--Hughes, Texeira and Cano are studs, catching prospects abound, and there are some dynamic arms just a year or two away--Betances, Banuelos, Nova, Brackman, Warren…. But not this year. If I’m GM Brian Cashman, I’ d look to move some pieces, especially Joba Chamberlain, Damaso Marte, Sergio Mitre, and Boone Logan. And if I can, I dump some bad contracts--A-Rod or A. J. Burnett anyone? I would not be surprised to see the Yankees slip as low as fourth this year.

I keep picking the Baltimore Orioles to rise and I think this year I’ll be right. Once again it all rides on young arms--Arrieta, Matusz, Guthrie, Bergesen… If Duchscherer is healed that would help, but the Yankees passed on him so that doesn’t bode well. And as much as people talk of the Red Sox and Yankees, a lineup of Roberts, Jones, Markakis, Lee, Hardy, Vlad Guerrero, Scott, Wieters, and Reynolds has a chance to be better 1-9 than either Boston or New York. It all boils down to whether the O’s can pitch well enough to compete.

Not this year, but watch the Toronto Blue Jays, who really are rebuilding. The Jays led the league in homers last year and might again: Bautista, Encarnacion, Lind, Hill…. If these guys ever raise their .OBP the Jays will wear out some pitching staffs. Speaking of which, they’re not ready yet but watch out for this young staff. Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil are already good, Kyle Drabek is an ace in the hole, Brandon Morrow is on the cusp, and you don’t know names such as Rzepczynski, Carlson, and McGowan yet, but you will. If these kids mature like I think they will, next year the Blue Jays will be my dark horse pick.


1. Rays (Pitching trumps hype)

2. Red Sox (Because no one ever wins on paper!)

3. Orioles (They’re either third of fifth)

4. Yankees (Brian Cashman gets cashiered after the mass retirement party)

5. Blue Jays (Have a Labatt’s and be patient, eh?)


American League Central Preview

Because somebody has to win this division!

The more things change the more they remain the same. Once again the American League Central will be a toss up and once again for the same reason--the Central has three decent teams--Twins, Tigers, and White Sox--who could win it, or could finish 10-15 games out of the running. Each has that much promise and that many question marks.

Let’s start with the division rubbish. The Cleveland Indians are in rebuilding mold and I’d not be at all surprised to see them unload their one big gun, Fausto Carmona, to someone like the Yankees for blue-chip prospects. Other than closer Rafael Perez and journeyman Chad Durbin, no one else on the staff has more than four years’ experience and none is a household name. Shin-Soo Choo is fun to watch, as is Grady Seizmore (when healthy), but the Tribe is at least two years away from being competitive.

The Kansas City Royals are a joke--the Pittsburgh Pirates of the AL. We’ve been hearing about how they’re stockpiling prospects for so long that some of those erstwhile franchise-savers have retired. Really, who cares? It’s a rotten team in a horrible city. No one on this team is a starter anywhere else (except Pittsburgh).

Until someone knocks them off, the Minnesota Twins are the team to beat. The strength is what’s been for several years--a blue-collar grind-it-out ethos and a solid lineup: Morneau, Cuddyer, Thome, Span, Kubel, Young. Then there’s the stud: Joe Mauer. The staff is full of number three guys--Baker, Blackburn, Duensing, Slowey, Pavano… One guy could lead: Francisco Liriano. He could also go on the DL by June and disappear. And so could Morneau and Mauer. This is to say that the Twins are talented, but fragile and not very deep. If healthy, they win the AL Central. If not…

The Detroit Tigers might be good enough to slip by them, if their pitching straightens out. Verlander is solid, but Scherzer, Porcello, and Penny need to be consistently good not occasionally so, and number five is anyone’s guess. (Phil Coke?) Victor Martinez was a great addition and should make Cabrera even more dangerous (if he stays sober). If Ordonez returns to form, he’ll help up-and-comers Austin Jackson and Ryan Rayburn. Watch the latter--he may be poised for a breakout. Inge and Peralta are useful pieces.

Anyone beside me sick of the Ozzie Guillen show? Any other manager and I’d pick the Chicago White Sox to win the Central. They certainly have the best pitching--Beuhrle, Danks, Gavin, Peavy, Jackson, Thornton…. Okay, the hitting thins fast after you say Konerko, Quentin, Alexei Ramirez, and maybe (BIG maybe) Rios. But the ChiSox will win close games on those arms. Will they win enough to avoid another Ozzie meltdown? Probably not. The man is a bore and ownership can’t seem to figure out that he’s a de-motivator.


1. Tigers (Call it a hunch)

2. Twins (Injuries save Twins fans their annual postseason disappointment)

3. White Sox

4. Indians

5. International League Champion

6. Ladies’ Softball Champion

7. Royals


American League West Preview

Texas-sized questions, but good enough.

Many people consider this MLB’s weakest division, but it’s also a competitive one because each team has voids the size of a New England pothole.

On paper the Texas Rangers should have a cakewalk to another title. There is no question that Cruz, Kinsler, and reigning MVP Josh Hamilton can mash the ball, or that Elvis Andrus is an emerging star at short, but this is a team with holes, question marks, and bad chemistry. Let’s start with this. Does anyone understand the logic of throwing dough at Adrian Beltre when the Rangers already had Michael Young? I don’t care how well Beltre hit last year, Young’s a better player, wants out, and will probably exit on the cheap. The Rangers’ once-promising catching core is a mess, and it remains to be seen if losing Cliff Lee is catastrophic. If Feldman, Lewis, Wilson, and Lowe continue to improve, the Rangers should be okay. Ditto if Brandon Webb manages a come back. But the Rangers could also be a sore arm or an off year away from a tumble.

If that happens, watch out for the Oakland Athletics. This is a much better team than most people think and one very quietly assembling a promising young staff: Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden…. If Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy pitch to potential, Oakland will out-duel a lot of teams in that spacious barn where they play their home games. The big question is, can they hit? Matsui will, DeJesus should, Willingham is solid, and Kouzmanhoff and recent pickup Connor Jackson are capable. (They’re also good for a ton of whiffs.) This team may be a year or two away from contending, but if Jupiter aligns with Mars….

The Los Angeles Angels are also an enigma. They needed Carl Crawford and came away with Vernon Wells. Good luck with that! And fingers crossed that 35-year-old Torii Hunter and 36-year-old Bobby Abreu aren’t ready for the big slide to mediocrity. It’s hard to know what to make of an infield of Morales, Kendrick, Aybar, and Iztrusis. Some times they look great; some times they look like they’ve never been taught the fundamentals. The Angels will miss Mike Napoli behind the plate to keep flakes like Kazmir, Pinero, and Santana in line. There’s no true ace on this staff, unless Dan Haren steps up or Santana figures it out. Fernando Rodney as the closer? Not for long!

The Angels are a portrait of Zen compared to the Seattle Mariners. Can somebody explain how a ream with Felix Hernandez, Ichiro, and Chone Figgins can be as bad as the Ms were last year? I suppose it starts with the fact that there is no 2, 3, 4, and 5 to compliment Hernandez. The staff has been rebuilt over the winter but there’s not much on paper to inspire confidence. And alas, the rest of the lineup appears to follow a two-stars spare-parts pattern. And then there’s Milton Bradley. It’s hard to imagine much sunshine in Seattle this year.


1. Rangers (but closer than you’d imagine)

2. Athletics

3. Angels

4. Mariners (they could be the AL Pirates)