I know the season already technically started, but come on. It hasn’t really.
In the span of a few hours, Brian Cashman turned the Yankees’ most glaring weakness—the rotation behind CC Sabathia—into a strength. Barring a 2011 Phil Hughes-like meltdown from Michael Pineda (whenever he comes back from the DL, but with no structural damage, that shouldn’t be too long), the rotation should be better than it was last year, and with a strong bullpen and lineup, this is, on paper, the best team in the East. Curtis Granderson likely won’t hit 40 homers again, and Derek Jeter is no longer as good as he was in the second half, but the lineup will be plenty potent, and the back end of the pen is still second to none.
2. Red Sox
The offense will be just fine. Carl Crawford is better than a .694 OPS (when he gets back anyway), Adrian Gonzalez will hit more than 27 homers as he gets further from shoulder surgery, and while Jacoby Ellsbury probably won’t repeat his breakout 2011, there is no reason the Sox offense won’t rank among the league’s elite once again. The problem last year though, was the pitching. Addition by the subtraction of John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka is nice, and getting a healthy Clay Buchholz back will be huge, but can Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront be relied on? And what about after them? Ultimately it shouldn’t matter too much—despite September, this is still an excellent team.
Had the Rays lost one more game in September, their 2011 narrative would be one of disappointment. Resigning Carlos Pena will add some power, but as last year, the focus is on the pitching. Tampa allowed the fewest runs per game of any AL team last year, and adding top prospect Matt Moore should help. The key here is James Shields. In 2010, Shields allowed the most hits and earned runs in the Majors, and had an ERA over 5. Then last year, he threw 46 more innings, allowed 50 fewer hits, and more than tripled his career CG total. Into BABIP? His .258 mark last season is just as far off his career number (.299) as the .341 he put up in 2010 was.
4. Blue Jays
For all the talk of a sleeping giant, the Blue Jays are going to need an awful lot to go right to contend in 2012. Jose Bautista doesn’t realistically have much room to improve, and while Brett Lawrie has lots of upside, they will need Colby Rasmus to hit like he did in 2010 and it will be a surprise if the catching tandem of JP Arencibia and Jeff Mathis get on base more than 30% of the time. As for the rotation, Ricky Romero is awesome, but Brandon Morrow’s results have never matched his stuff and after him? Jays pitching was 11th in the AL in runs per game last year. They can be much better than that, but barring everyone reaching their best case scenario at once, I’m not seeing anything higher than fourth.
Well, Brian Matusz can’t possibly be any worse, right? And hey, Matt Wieters is awesome! Goal for the season is to not get banned from any more sovereign nations. If my life depended on picking a team to finish last this season, I would pick the Orioles.
And if my life depended on picking a team to finish first, I would pick the Tigers. The Miguel Cabrera: Third Baseman Experiment isn’t exactly off to the best start, but no matter where he plays, he’ll hit enough to make it work. Fister is not as good as he was down the stretch, but he’s a solid #2, and Justin Verlander is Justin Verlander. This is the team to beat in the Central, and no one is particularly close.
2. White Sox
I’m going with Chicago here to finish second but really, the non-Tigers teams here are pretty interchangeable. And none of them are particularly impressive. I like Chicago’s pitching a whole lot more than Kansas City’s and figure Adam Dunn can’t really be that bad again…right?
Can Jeff Francoeur do that again? History says probably not, but Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon make a solid core. This is probably the best non-Detroit offensive team in the division, but oh that pitching staff. Losing Sal Perez and Joakim Soria isn’t going to help either.
They surprised a lot of people last year, and while Ubaldo Jimenez is better than that, Justin Masterson probably isn’t. Adding by subtracting
Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez Heredia will improve the team, but there are far too many plate appearances going to Shelley Duncan.
No more Drew Butera? Hopefully Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will stay healthy? Uh…Josh Willingham is quietly a pretty good ballplayer.
Last season, CJ Wilson threw 223 innings of sub-3 ERA ball in the Launchpad in Arlington. No one knows what to expect from Yu Darvish, but how much better than that, if any, will it be? A full season of Mike Napoli will be nice, even if he doesn’t hit the cover off the ball like he did in limited duty last year. The rotation will be good, the lineup will be better, and the back to back AL Champs are still the team to beat in the West.
No one made a bigger splash this winter than the Angels, signing Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson, and in Wilson’s case, signing him away from their main rivals. They are also getting Kendrys Morales back after a nearly two year layoff from a freak ankle injury. The real strength though is the pitching—Los Angeles boasts probably the best 1-4 in the game and would be a team to be feared in a short series. I don’t think they quite make it past Texas over the long haul, but this is a very strong club.
Is Yoenis Cespedes in fact a demigod? Can Brandon McCarthy’s on-field performance continue to match his twitter performance (seriously—follow him)? They are still better than the Mariners, but a clear step behind the Angels and Rangers.
Chone Figgins is batting leadoff. That pretty much says it all.
They are not quite as obvious a choice as they were last year, but that speaks more to the rest of the division improving around them. Halladay, Lee, and Hamels are still three of the very best in the business, and are enough to overcome shortcomings in the lineup. Plus, Ryan Howard coming back will help, and hopefully Chase Utley isn’t dead.
Unlike the Red Sox, the Braves kept pretty much everyone around after their own historic collapse, but this is still a very good team. Jason Heyward should be better and still very young, and the bullpen, September aside, is poised to be terrific again. As for the rotation, if Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran come up strong, this team will be poised for a strong showing.
There is a ton of talent on this team. The rotation is potentially terrific with a full year of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, even Edwin Jackson. John Lannan is two-time Opening Day starter who will finally be where he belongs—the back of the rotation. Jayson Werth should be better, and with Bryce Harper waiting in the wings, this could be a fun team to watch in coming years.
With a brand new stadium opening, the Marlins became major players this winter, being connected to nearly every big name free agent and actually landing several of them. Hanley Ramirez should be much better with the bat than he was last year, and moving over to third should add value as well. Can Josh Johnson stay healthy? If so, then I’m probably underselling them.
Jason Bay almost has to improve, and a healthy Ike Davis and Lucas Duda will be fun to watch. We will soon find out if Johan Santana has anything left in his surgically repaired shoulder, but overall this team is not in a good place. At least the Madoff lawsuit is over.
Losing Fielder is going to hurt them, but getting Braun back for the 50 games that everyone assumed he would miss after his positive steroid test is a huge bonus. The pitching was strong last year and figures to continue to be so and in a wide open division, they can carry it.
Acquiring Mat Latos is a big bonus to the Reds, who got solid years from Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto (who was terrific in limited duty). Joey Votto is one of the very best players in the game, and between Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, and the pitching, it’s enough to do well.
Can Lance Berkman do it again? They still won’t be able to replace Albert Pujols but they got Carlos Beltran on a great deal and even a diminished offense will be able to compete in the NL Central. Adam Wainwright coming back strong will help a lot as well, but I don’t see them winning the division. Then again, the 2011 Cardinals happened.
Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster are pretty good, and that’s the real difference between the teams in the lower half of this division. Starlin Castro is pretty good and Carlos Marmol is fun to watch.
Hard to believe losing AJ Burnett is actually going to hurt a team, but the rest of the Pirates rotation is the perpetually injured Erik Bedard, and a few guys who pitched over their heads last year. There is some upside in the lineup and Andrew McCutchen is a lot of fun to watch.
They’ll be better than they were last year, if only because it would be incredibly impressive if they weren’t. That said—good luck in the AL next year Astros fans, because there won’t be much worth watching here.
I was not alone in picking them to finish last in 2011, but everyone took huge strides and with the weakness of the competition, they are poised to repeat as division champs. Trevor Cahill will find the NL West as welcoming as Ian Kennedy did, and Justin Upton is still only entering his prime.
Getting Buster Posey back will be a huge boon to the offense, Pablo Sandoval will continue to put his 2010 in the distance, and even Melky Cabrera might contribute positively. The rotation hasn’t been a question mark for years, and with Madison Bumgarner’s terrific 2011 campaign, it only looks to be even stronger. The offense still won’t match Arizona’s, but the pitching will keep them competitive.
Todd Helton had a nice bounceback year, but he is another year older and who knows how much he has left in the tank. The rest of the offense should be able to pick up the slack though, between Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and the newly acquired Michael Cuddyer, there is pop to go around. The pitching though, is a work in progress. Jhoulys Chacin is solid, but there is the potential to have Jeremy Guthrie and Jamie Moyer pitching in Coors Field at the same time. The New Blake Street Bombers are whoever is playing the Rockies.
Clayton Kershaw! Matt Kemp! Dee Gordon is really really really fast! Kenley Jansen is awesome to watch! No more Frank McCourt!
Um..Dustin Moseley and Tim Stauffer weren’t terrible last year. Andrew Cashner throws really hard, and Micah Owings can hit.