1. New York Yankees: I hope I’m not being a homer here. That said, the team has a lot of not only pitching depth but quality pitching depth. Yes, several members of the team are past their primes, but the Yankees have had a great offense with A-Rod and Jeter performing not like themselves at all the past two years, and very good players like Cano, Granderson, and Swisher are still in their prime. They’re gonna hit a ton, and pitch pretty darn well.
2. Boston Red Sox: Their rotation seems pretty shaky, but if they get a strong year from either Beckett or Buchholz – I’m counting Lester as close to a given here – they’ll be in really good hands with the offense they have. People forget that the 2009 team won 95 games with a rotation that needed 130 innings of 5.60 ERA from Brad Penny as their #3 guy. Heck, people forget they won 90 games last year with that back end of the rotation. I’m not really sure what to expect from the bullpen compared to the past few years, but Melancon and Bailey are quality pitchers. But it’s the offense that’s going to carry them far, and it would need an unrealistic number of things to go wrong for the offense to get so bad it would keep them out of contention.
3. Tampa Bay Rays: You know their pitching is going to be good, but is it getting overrated? Still, even with the questions (Shields was fantastic in 2011, but horrible in 2010. will Hellickson regress? will Moore struggle?), Tampa probably has the best rotation in the AL. I’m not sure if their bullpen pixie dust will hold up like it did last year, or with guys like Fernando Rodney at all. And their offense is just average, especially considering the other two behemoths in this division. And yet despite the fact that this paragraph seems overly nitpicky, Tampa is going to be a really terrific team. Basically, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see any of the top three winning this division.
4. Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista still rules, and their team has a ton of potential in guys like Lawrie, Rasmus, and most of their pitchers. You don’t expect all of them to become suddenly awesome at once, though, and hey, life’s tough in the AL East. Their pitching, both rotation and bullpen, still has a long way to go.
5. Baltimore Orioles: Um, Matusz doesn’t look like a disaster so far in ST? Just because Matt Wieters hasn’t resurrected Jesus while hitting a walk-off six-run grand slam doesn’t mean he’s not finally turning into a good player? They’re going to be really careful before they offend any foreign nations next time? Seriously, look at that rotation, ye mighty, and despair. They’d be bad in any division, and they’re stuck in the AL East.
1. Detroit Tigers: Try as you might to be as nitpicky about the Tigers as possible – Verlander will still be good but the odds he repeats last year are low, the middle of their lineup is terrifying but the rest of it really isn’t, the defense the defense the defense – and you still realize, it’s them in this division, and then everyone else. Also so I don’t sound overly negative, they’ve got a great offense, Verlander’s Verlander and he’s got a decent rotation backing him up, and the bullpen’s strong. And I watched the 2003-2008 Yankees win ~95 games every year with a defense that consisted of lighting my eyes on fire.
2. Cleveland Indians: A lot depends on Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. If Masterson repeats his 2011 and Ubaldo his 2010, those are two very good pitchers to go along with a strong bullpen and an okay offense. If not, the team probably isn’t going to be able to compete, because they just don’t have enough.
3. Kansas City Royals: They do a lot of things wrong, and when I looked at their rotation I just kind of… tilted my head that a major league rotation consisted of those pitchers. But they’ve got so much offensive talent. Some day, Royals! Some day!
4. Chicago White Sox: Funnily enough, if everything goes right for them, I can see them being the team that beats out Detroit in this division – but that’s if everything goes right, and I doubt it will. So many things – Dunn, Beckham, Rios, Sale, no regression from Konerko – would have to go not only right but best-case scenario right, and without that I see them as mediocre to bad.
5. Minnesota Twins: I think last year was a year where EVERYTHING went wrong and they won’t be quite that bad again. That said, the rotation and bullpen are quite poor, and the offense is full of players who, well, aren’t that good, or are incredible injury risks. I can see upside in the other teams in this division; I can’t see it here.
1. Texas Rangers: It’ll be closer than it was last year, because CJ Wilson was a really good pitcher for them and I’m not sure Yu Darvish – in his first year, in the American League, pitching in Arlington – can do what Wilson did in 2011. Also, many potent parts of their offense are very injury-prone, and I don’t trust that bullpen. That said, this is still a team that’s remarkably quite solidly above average in just about everything.
2. Los Angeles Angels: Even with Pujols, I’m not sure this is going to be even an average offense. Add a fully healthy Morales and probably, though that’s a huge maybe on “fully healthy Morales” too. That said, their rotation is pretty monstrously good, and competing with Tampa for the best in the AL. They might not win the division, but I think they’ll make the playoffs handily, and they’re the team I’d least like to face there.
3. Seattle Mariners: Their offense should be better with Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, and maybe Justin Smoak making improvements, but it’s still not going to be good, and their rotation is Felix and then meh. But they’re still better than…
4. Oakland As: So how about that Cespedes signing, guys? Really, though, Oakland is a miasma of 1B/DH prospects that end up hitting like middle infielders, and pretty good pitchers who break constantly and leave them with… not so good pitchers.
Wild Card 1: Los Angeles Angels
Wild Card 2: Boston Red Sox
1. Philadelphia Phillies: In just a few years, their offense went from NL-scary to completely pedestrian. Still, a pedestrian offense will be more than enough to win with their excellent pitching. Utley and Howard will definitely help when they return, too, even if they’re not what they were.
2. Washington Nationals: After the Phillies, the next three teams in the East could really finish in any order. I really like the Nationals’ rotation now, though, so I went with them in second. Like the Phillies, though, their offense is pedestrian, and their frontline pitching is good but not quite as elite as the Halladay/Lee/Hamels combo.
3. Miami Marlins: I was gonna put them fourth, but this song made me bump them up a spot. Nah, that’s not all – but a lot of this prediction hinges on Josh Johnson being healthy and Hanley bouncing back, which are big ifs. If those happen, they’re clearly above-average, in both pitching and offense. If they don’t, they’re pedestrian at best. At least we’ll see lots of the home run doodad in center. And it will never be boring.
4. Atlanta Braves: It feels weird picking them fourth, because I think they’re a good team, but this division got really good all of a sudden. Their offense has a lot of talented players, but these talented players are also pretty injury-prone or coming off down years I’m not sure they’ll bounce back from in the case of Uggla and Heyward. Their starting pitching is probably going to be scary good in a couple of years, but right now it’s just a little too young and volatile.
5. New York Mets: It’s not that they’re going to be 1962 Mets bad like some people seem to think, it’s just that they’re not good and the rest of the division is. If Spring Training is any indication, this plan where they sacrifice all their other players to keep Johan healthy is working okay, at least.
1. St. Louis Cardinals: See, because I picked them to win this division they’re gonna finish fifth because the Cardinals are always messing with you! But seriously, I think their rotation’s pretty solid even if Wainwright has a few post-TJS bumps and Carpenter doesn’t miss too much time. Yeah, they’re gonna miss Pujols, but their offense is still pretty potent. I feel like a lot of things could go wrong here, to be honest, but I also think they have a pretty high ceiling. (Maybe because, like, nearly everything did go wrong for them last year, and they won the World Series.)
2. Milwaukee Brewers: Fielder’s gone, but Braun is still here for all the games, and so is their pitching. They’re solid, but not remarkable. I just think they’ll really miss Fielder. And Yuni, of course.
3. Cincinnati Reds: I can honestly see them winning this division. But I think their offense is a little too top-heavy, and their rotation has far to go before it’s all that great. Latos was a good acquisition, but moving from Petco to the Great American Ballpark will probably hurt a bit.
4. Chicago Cubs: Big gap between the first three and the last three. The Cubs aren’t quite as bad as the two teams below them, because I actually like some members of their rotation, but they aren’t really good at anything.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates: It’s been one of those… twenty years… hasn’t it. Hey, Andrew McCutchen is really good!
6. Houston Astros: WHY DID THIS COLD CHILL JUST PASS THROUGH MY BODY?
1. San Francisco Giants: I’m not 100% on this, but so many things went so wrong for them last year and they were still a good team. Buster Posey will help if he’s healthy, which by all accounts he is, and really the offense can’t be quite that dreadful again (right?) even if it’ll never be great. The pitching staff has some real studs in it (though the back end/depth is a little weak), and the bullpen is really good even if the magic wackiness of Brian Wilson has lost some effectiveness since 2010.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks: They’re still going to be good, but a lot went right for them last year, from Kennedy to Montero and their call-ups, and I’m not sure all of that is going to go right again.
3. Colorado Rockies: Hey, that lineup isn’t so horrible. Then I look at that rotation, grimace, and as politely as possible call it a “work in progress” and move along.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers: This team’s a mess outside of Kemp and Kershaw, and what’s more than that is that the mess seems to have an incredibly low ceiling. There are very few high-reward types in there.
5. San Diego Padres: They do have a few names that could do interesting things this year, but they’re not really good at anything. It’ll be entertaining when their pitchers all put up 3.00 ERAs (88 ERA+), though.
Wild Card 1: Milwaukee Brewers
Wild Card 2: Washington Nationals (go insane, go insane, throw some glitter make it rain)