For a decade, the AL East was an annul two-horse race between the Yankees and Red Sox. In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays force there way into playoff picture. Now, with the Blue Jays and Orioles both fielding impressive young rosters for whom winning records are very realistic, nobody looks forward to visiting any of these cities. The vaunted East is not far from being a wide-open competition.
But not this year...
I think the Jays and Rays will both be better than .500 teams, and I expect Buck Showalter's "Baby Birds" to have their best season since 2004, but when all is said and done, the Yankees and Red Sox will again be headed for the postseason.
Following an active offseason, in which Theo Epstein brought in a pair of premier hitters, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, to add to a lineup which already promised to be buoyed by the returns of Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury, the BoSox are the odds-on favorite not only to win the East, but also the AL Pennant, and the World Series. They've got a loaded lineup, a deep rotation, and a dynamic bullpen.
The Yankees are far less complete. They have only once truly dependable starting pitcher. They have a very uncertain catching situation. And they depend upon an aging core, several of whom are coming off down seasons. Still, they've got an abundance of talent, especially on offense, and while it would hardly surprise me if they caught a few bad breaks and fell back of the Rays and/or Jays, I'm having a hard time talking myself into making that prediction.
Boston Red Sox 97 W
New York Yankees 91 W
Toronto Blue Jays 89 W
Tampa Bay Rays 87 W
Baltimore Orioles 78 W
MVP Candidate: Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
Cy Young Candidate: C. C. Sabathia, Yankees
Rookie of the Year: Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays
Comeback of the Year: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox
Breakout Candidates: Ricky Romero, Blue Jays; Adam Jones, Orioles; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Brett Cecil, Blue Jays; Matt Joyce, Rays; Sean Rodriguez, Rays; Jed Lowrie, Red Sox
Many will bet the chalk in the AL Central. The Twins had an impressive 2010 campaign and none of their divisional opponents made big splashes this offseason. The Twins do have a few things to hang their hats on. They've got a plethora of power-hitters. They've got a three-time batting champ. They've got arguably the best pitcher in the division. They've also got some serious uncertainty at the back of the rotation. They've got unproven players at three infield positions. And their cleanup hitter is still recovering from a concussion he suffered nine months ago.
Chicago relatively quietly improved themselves this offseason. Their big move was the addition of free agent, Adam Dunn, who give them a consistent power source to slide into the lineup between Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin. They bolstered their bullpen with the addition of veteran relievers, Jesse Crain and Will Ohman. They added an inexpensive high-upside outfielder in Lastings Milledge. And they brought back clubhouse leaders Konerko, A. J. Pierzynski, and Omar Vizquel.
More importantly, however, the Sox have plenty of depth in their rotation and a handful of young players who could make much bigger contributions in 2011. Foremost among these is Gordon Beckham, the 24-year-old second-baseman who struggled mightily in the first half of his sophomore season, but made adjustments and hit .310 in the second half. The White Sox could also get substantial contributions from rookies Chris Sale and Brent Morel, and sophomores Sergio Santos and Dayan Viciedo.
I often preach the importance of depth in the marathon season. The White Sox have it. The Twins don't.
Chicago White Sox 92 W
Minnesota Twins 86 W
Detroit Tigers 77 W
Cleveland Indians 70 W
Kansas City Royals 62 W
MVP Candidate: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Cy Young Candidate: Francisco Liriano, Twins
Rookie of the Year: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Twins
Comeback of the Year: Jake Peavy, White Sox
Breakout Candidates: Max Scherzer, Tigers; Gordon Beckham, White Sox; Kila Ka'aihue, Royals; Asdrubel Cabrera, Indians
Sure, they'll miss Cliff Lee. But the rumors of the Rangers demise have been greatly exaggerated. Remember, Texas was five games up in the West and playing at a .581 clip before Lee ever threw a pitch for them in 2010.
The ever-optimistic Angels fans will rally behind their solid rotation and their improved bullpen depth, but the Angels ability to score runs remains in doubt, especially with Kendrys Morales remaining on the D.L. to begin the season and still no long-term solution at third base.
The major threat to a Texas repeat is actually the Oakland Athletics. Billy Beane helped move his offense towards respectability by adding David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui, but the A's still don't possess a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter. However, teams like the Giants and Padres have proven that mediocre offense can be overcome by superlative pitching. The A's have potentially superlative pitching. If the rotation keeps Oakland in the race into July, expect Beane to chase impending free agent rentals.
Texas Rangers 91 W
Oakland Athletics 87 W
Los Angeles Angels 75 W
Seattle Mariners 68 W
MVP Candidate: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Cy Young Candidate: Jered Weaver, Angels
Rookie of the Year: Chris Carter, Athletics
Comeback of the Year: Chone Figgins, Mariners
Breakout Candidates: Brett Anderson, Athletics; Julio Borbon, Rangers; Jason Vargas, Mariners