While the National League (NL) has it’s own set of exciting storylines, the 2012 American League (AL) promises to be a complete and utter cluster of fascinating plots and subplots. Will Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson lead the Angels back to the postseason? Can the Rangers repeat as AL champs for a third straight season? How many homeruns will Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hit? Does Andy Pettitte have anything left in the tank? Which ESPN analyst will Bobby Valentine body slam first (God, please let it be Schilling)?
Alright, let’s get to it. Much like Tuesday’s NL preview, teams are described below in predicted order of finish (* denotes Wild Card winners).
Despite a hiccup in 2009, the New York Yankees have spent the last decade damaging teams in the regular season with such regularity that it lulls analysts into picking them to win the World Series each time they’ve entered the playoffs (save for 2008). What’s everyone missing? The Yankees will always score runs, especially against a team’s lesser starters. What they do have trouble with is beating aces, which explains their propensity to wither against the likes of Justin Verlander, David Price, etc. This and their own erratic starting pitching has been their chief post-season problem since 2001. While the addition of Michael Pineda and Andy Pettitte to the 2012 team should help wrap up another AL East title, their aging bats and inconsistent rotation are still built for July, not October.
Baseball economists are positively giddy over the sustained emergence of the Tampa Bay Rays*as one of baseball’s stalwart organizations. With a shrewd front office and a world-class manager, the Rays continue to defy odds and churn out playoff-worthy performances. This year should be no different: David Price leads a starting rotation that has an abundance of talent. The only thing holding this squad back is an inconsistent bullpen. If their late-inning relief conundrum is solved and Desmond Jennings and BJ Upton both hit, this division will belong to Tampa once again.
The evolution of a front runner is hilarious. Over the weekend I ran into a Boston Red Sox fan who insisted the team’s main problem last year was Tito Francona. Now that taskmaster Bobby Valentine is at the helm, he foresees greatness. I, on the other hand, immediately recalled the end of Joe Torre’s tumultuous turn with the Yankees. When the team lacked talent, it was Joe’s fault. Same story here: the Red Sox didn’t choke last year because of chicken or beer. They were decimated by injuries. The core of this team is still rock solid and so is the top of the rotation. There isn’t a lot of depth beyond that, which is what makes me think they fall short again this year.
Is it just me or does it seem like the Toronto Blue Jays are always on the cusp of taking on the big boys of the AL East? This year is no different as a well-rounded Jays team looks to finally crack the strangle-hold among the New York-Boston-Tampa triumvirate. While I believe there are good things ahead for Toronto, their 2012 rotation has been a disappointment thus far. It’s going to be difficult winning 90+ games with Ricky Romero, Brendan Morrow, and a bunch of question marks.
We all know about the Baltimore Orioles. Instead of slamming the team once again, I’ll focus on the 20th anniversary of their stadium. Regardless of sport, it is the best stadium built in the last 50 years. I’m profoundly fortunate to have spent the better part of my life attending games there. I’m also profoundly unfortunate in that the Baltimore Orioles have been the home team for all of them. Manny Machado and Al Dylan Bundy can’t be ready fast enough.
Really, it’s the Detroit Tigers and then everyone else. The addition of Prince Fielder makes the Detroit lineup straight-nasty. Despite the physical appearance of Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers don’t have many soft spots in either their lineup or starting rotation. Detroit’s biggest competition this year won’t come from the rest of the division, but rather the team’s post-game buffet spread. Somebody could lose a hand if they get too close…
Ughh, this is where the rest of the group gets ugly. When trying to rank crappy teams, I usually go with talent over experience – which is why I think the Kansas City Royals will land in second place. The Royals’ embarrassment of prospect riches is starting to pay off as Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hope to become infield cornerstones (Hosmer’s practically there). Late bloomer Alex Gordon is finally living up to his potential as the former #2 overall pick. As expected, the pitching prospects (Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, et al.) are developing a bit slower, so Royals fans will have to once again wait until next year.
The Chicago White Sox should be fun to follow if only because of new manager Robin Ventura, especially when they play Texas (see right). Everyone is down on the White Sox this year, but I still see a solid amount of offensive firepower and decent starting
pitching. Jake Peavy isn’t going to revert back to what he was in San Diego, but if he’s healthy, he’s a great mid-rotation starter. The bullpen’s a mess, but if Adam Dunn and Gordon Beckham can manage to be better than awful, the Sox will score enough runs to outslug a few opponents.
In an effort to will Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau back to health, I’m dropping the Minnesota Twins here. If those two can hit, I think the Twins can scare a few teams with solid defense, an underrated outfield, and a respectable rotation. If not, the Twins will sink like the Titanic.
I didn’t believe in the Cleveland Indians when they made their run last year and I don’t believe in them this year, either. Ubaldo Jimenez is a mess, both physically and mentally. Derek Lowe’s best days are behind him, and as much as I like Shelley Duncan, I can’t see him starting in left field for any team hoping to win more than 75 games.
Hey, anything interesting happen in this division over the summer?
The Texas Rangers return to 2012 stacked: their lineup top to bottom rivals Detroit and New York’s as the best in the AL. Their starting pitching continues to evolve with the maturation of Derek Holland and arrival of newcomer Yu Darvish. The Ranger bullpen is deep and experienced: I love the addition of Joe Nathan, enabling the Rangers to move Neftali Feliz’s electric arm to the starting rotation. They may absolutely be the MLB-equivalent of the early 1990’s Buffalo Bills; and that’s a major compliment.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim* are in a position similar to the team that won the 2002 World Series: they play in a two-team division featuring an established power looking to make amends for a disappointing exit the prior season (see the 2001-2002 Oakland A’s). What this year’s Angels team does not have, however, is the element of surprise. In an effort to win now and pay later, owner Arte Moreno opened up the vault to bring in future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols and Texas ace CJ Wilson. While the addition of Wilson bolsters an already-dominant starting rotation, Pujols will be required to lead an offense that struggled in 2011. If Kendrys Morales is healthy and Baseball America wet dream Mike Trout pushes for PT, this team could be headed to the World Series.
There’s some intriguing talent on Seattle’s roster but that won’t be enough to compete with this division’s behemoths. This is a make or break year for Justin Smoak, who persevered last year despite a number of tough setbacks. Jesus Montero and Dustin Ackley should lead the M’s in offensive statistics for years to come, but beyond that, there isn’t much else for pitchers to fear. At this point, Ichiro’s skills are more of a legend than a reality. Felix Hernandez is still a badass, but the rest of the rotation is not.
I hate the fact that a visionary character like Oakland’s Billy Beane is left in an economic wasteland. There are pieces of his cultivated talent all over the big leagues winning games for richer teams. Sadly, until Oakland’s stadium situation is resolved, the A’s will be in a perpetual state of re-build.
AL Wildcard: Rays over Angels
ALDS: Rangers over Yankees, Angels over Tigers
ALCS: Rangers over Angels
NL Wildcard: Phillies over Diamondbacks
NLDS: Marlins over Giants, Phillies over Cardinals
NLCS: Marlins over Phillies
World Series: Rangers over Marlins
This promises to be one hell of a summer. I can’t wait…