You’re supposed to make predictions, I guess. I really have no idea what’s going to happen, and neither does anyone else.
Well, the flipping Yankees are going to win, of course, they pretty much always do. The only thing that can stop them is that the AL East is ridiculously strong. It’s not impossible that the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays are the three best teams in baseball. One of them’s going to get left out. The Orioles, with a bit of luck, could challenge in any other division, but in this one it’s hopeless. The Jays will probably be pretty sad.
Even without Joe Nathan, I think that the Twins should be the favorites in the AL Central. They’re just the only two-way team there. The Tigers can’t get anyone out, and didn’t help themselves by trading their only two good defensive players. The White Sox, on the other hand, couldn’t score any runs last year and don’t look much improved to me. The Indians are in full-on rebuilding mode, and the Royals are beneath contempt.
East West has been the Angels’ playground for years. A lot of people think that this is over, but I’m reluctant to agree just because I never could figure out how they did it to begin with. The Rangers and Mariners both have taken a pitching-and-defense tack to improve, and the smart money is on a war between them. The Mariners’ version is stronger, but the Rangers are more balanced; I think that if it comes down to these two teams, the more veteran Mariners would prevail. The A’s have flatlined and may be in permanent rebuilding mode.
In the NL West, the Dodgers have some of the best topline talent in baseball, including a terrific outfield, a top-notch closer, and good young starting pitching. But the divorce drama has kept them from patching holes on the roster and may leave the door open for the Rockies or the Giants. The Rockies’ strength is actually their pitching, but even in the humidor era I’m not sure how that will hold up year-to-year. The Giants are even more pitching oriented and their offseason acquisitions didn’t really address their offensive woes, but they may allow so few runs it doesn’t matter. The D-Backs spent 2009 wondering what hit them, as most of their young talent flopped and Brandon Webb missed almost the whole season. Maybe things will reverse themselves. The Padres are basically in the place of the Braves circa 1985; they have a hometown hero they should probably trade, and nothing else of note.
In the NL Central, the Cardinals have two star pitchers, the best player in baseball, and one other star hitter. But their key remains Tony LaRussa’s ability to patch together a lineup that always seems to have two or three utility players in it and Dave Duncan’s ability to get something out of starting pitchers who seemed on their way out of the league. It’s precarious, and if anything happens to one of the stars (Carpenter is always an injury risk) the whole thing could fall apart. The Cubs might pick up the pieces if that happens, though they have all sorts of problems and their outfield looks to me to be about as bad as the Braves’ was at the beginning of last year. The Brewers have their two big thumpers and some young offensive talent, but I don’t buy their pitching. The Reds are getting some notice, but I don’t see how, even in that park, they’re going to score. The Astros are a sad shell of a once-proud franchise, while the Pirates enter Year Seventeen of their rebuilding process with not much to show for it but Andrew “I Don’t Know How to Spell My Last Name” McCutchen.
And the East… The Phillies are the class of the NL, the two-time pennant winners and a team with no significant holes except closer, a hole that is easily fixed. Their window has a couple of years left before it closes. The Braves look in pretty good shape to me, and should be right in the wildcard hunt if they can get through without major injuries; arguably, they should have won it last year except for their bizarrely inefficient offense. The Marlins are the Marlins; they have good young pitching, one star, some other good players, and some guys you can’t figure out why they’re in the majors, and you should never, ever, underestimate them. The Nats are slowly turning into a major league team, but have neglected to acquire a starting rotation. The Mets have Jeff Francoeur.