Team: Detroit Tigers
Prediction: 89-73, 1st place
Why they’ll be better: The Tigers have arguably the best offense in the league, adding young stud Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria to a lineup that scored the second most runs in the AL last year. Curtis Granderson is one of the game’s most exciting young players and while Magglio Ordonez will decline, he’s still very good, and Carlos Guillenis one of the more underappreciated players in the league.
Why they’ll be worse: The rotation past ace Justin Verlander is a question mark, with the inconsistent Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis along with 43 year old Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson. If all five stay healthy and pitch to their abilities, they’ll be fine, but the odds of that are low. The bullpen is a huge weakness, with closer Todd Jones walking a fine line and set-up men Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney injured.
Key Player(s): RHP Bonderman – Every year, he’s expected to break out and establish himself as a true front-line starter, and every year he gets off to a good start followed by a shitty second half. He has the stuff and command to be a top-10 starter and if he’s healthy all year, he’ll give the Tigers the best 1-2 combination in the league with Verlander.
Outlook: The Tigers enter the season with expectations as high as any team in the league, two years removed from a World Series appearance and on the heels of the huge offseason trade with the Marlins that netted Cabrera and Willis. I credit GM Dave Dombrowski for striking while the iron’s hot – the window for contending is closing quickly. While on paper they look strong, they are older and injuries could take a toll. They have a good shot at the playoffs but I could see them having a disappointing year.
Team: Cleveland Indians
Prediction: 88-74, 2nd place
Why they’ll be better: They won 96 games last season despite getting very little production from their outfield corners and the worst season of Travis Hafner’s career. Most of their core, including Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko are still young and improving.
Why they’ll be worse: Hafner looked awful in the playoffs and might be done. C.C. Sabathia pitched a lot of innings last year and some decline from him and Fausto Carmona is to be expected. Joe Borowski is still the closer. As with most teams, the back end of the rotation is mediocre.
Key Player(s): Hafner and OF Franklin Gutierrez – You pretty much know what you’re gonna get from most of the Indians, but these two will determine how good the offense really is. Hafner was one of the best hitters in the league before last year and a return to form will make up for declines elsewhere. Gutierrez is a true 5-tool talent, a guy who could go 20-20 and play outstanding outfield defense. If they both flop, the Indians are unlikely to challenge the Tigers.
Outlook: The Indians made it within a game of the World Series last year, letting a 3-1 lead in the ALCS v. the Red Sox slip through their fingers. Their roster was pretty much unchanged from last year and watching the Tigers get better only shows that might not be a good thing. They have a lot of talent and are probably one of the top 5 teams in baseball, but that may not be enough to make the playoffs in the tough AL.
Team: Minnesota Twins
Prediction: 78-84, T-3rd place
Why they’ll be better: The return of stud pitcher Francisco Liriano and the continued development of Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker and Boof Bonser could give the Twins a underrated and strong pitching staff. The bullpen led by Joe Nathan and my personal favorite (and blogger) Pat Neshek should be solid. Joe Mauer and former MVP Justin Morneau should both put up good seasons.
Why they’ll be worse: It’s never easy to rely on young pitchers, no matter how talented, and it’s tough to know how Liriano will come back. The lineup has holes and Mauer has been injury-prone in his career. However, I don’t see a lot of downside here and they shouldn’t be too much worse than a slightly below average team.
Key Player(s): OF Delmon Young – The former #1 overall pick and #1 prospect in the game, and still just 22 years old, Young has been pegged by some as a future Hall-of-Famer. However, the Tampa Bay Rays gave up on him in part because of attitude problems and shipped him to the Twins for pitching. If Young shows some development towards becoming a franchise player, it will be a good foundation for the future of the Twins.
Outlook: The Twins looked around at their divisionmates and decided they couldn’t contend and dealt Johan Santana, the best pitcher in the game, to the Mets for a pu-pu platter of 4 mediocre prospects. It’s unfortunate because with their new ballpark opening and some really great pieces like Mauer, Morneau, Young and Liriano they could have probably afforded him and stayed in contention. I think they’ll be better than most people think and with a couple more bats could be a contender again as early as next year.
Team: Chicago White Sox
Prediction: 78-84, T-3rd place
Why they’ll be better: Well, I don’t think they will be – but I suppose if Jim Thome stays healthy and Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye reverse their decline, that could be a good 3-4-5. Nick Swisher will be an improvement in he outfield and Cuban import Alexei Ramirez could be very exciting.
Why they’ll be worse: Their rotation past the underrated Javier Vazquez is pretty bad, with Mark Buehrle on the edge of a drop-off, and John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Jose Contreras don’t belong in a major league rotation. The offense is old and slow without much upside. The bullpen can’t throw strikes.
Key Player(s): Ramirez – The Cuban import could be anything from the next Alfonso Soriano to the next Kendry Morales. He is raw and toolsy, and anywhere between 25 and 29, but his development is easily the most interesting part of this team.
Outlook: The White Sox somehow think they’re a contender despite winning only 72 games last year and being in a division with two much, much better teams. I would expect them to fall short of the 78 win prediction and could easily finish last.
Team: Kansas City Royals
Prediction: 73-89, 5th place
Why they’ll be better: If Gil Meche and Brian Bannister build upon their strong 2007s and Zack Greinke is actually over his emotional problems, they could actually have a decent rotation. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are both future offensive stars and this year could be their breakout.
Why they’ll be worse: The bullpen besides Joakim Soria is shaky and the offense is missing impact bats and has some holes. The rotation is a question mark and let’s be honest, they’re still the Royals.
Key Player(s): RHP Greinke – The once and future ace, Greinke has battled depression and other mental disoders and by the end of last season looked to have overcome them. If he is truly over it, Greinke will give the Royals another block to build upon.
Outlook: The Royals finally have some hope but they’re still a couple seasons away from approaching .500. They’re not the laughingstock of baseball anymore, and though it’s a small step, at least it’s one in the right direction.
Tomorrow: AL West