Major League Baseball preview 2011: Part II

Last week we broke down each team in the National League. This week we take a look at the American League and dissect each team, division by division.

American League East

1. Boston Red Sox

Despite getting swept last weekend by Texas, Boston is by far the most complete team in the majors. Starting lineup, team defense, rotation, bullpen and bench—the Red Sox have it all this year. If Boston can get healthy and productive seasons from Josh Beckett and John Lackey, the first four in the starting rotation would be trailing only the Phillies in talent. Clay Bucholz and Jon Lester are going to be Cy Young candidates one day soon and if Beckett can be a shadow of his old self, the Red Sox will get great collective numbers from the rotation.

Even if the rotation struggles with health issues, the lineup is good enough to mask it. After two games, Carl Crawford was moved from the three spot in the order to the seven spot. I think Terry Francona needs to show a little patience in terms of letting his lineup gel before making decisions like this. With Crawford in the three spot the Red Sox have three table setters for the power bats later in the lineup. With Ellisbury, Pedroia and Crawford hitting one, two and three respectively, the Red Sox should have runners on base virtually every time one of their power hitters — Youkilis, Gonzalez and Ortiz — come to the plate.

 

If the Red Sox do not reach the World Series I think it would be fair to call their season a disappointment. What a shame it would be to waste a roster such as this one.

2. New York Yankees

On paper there is no question that the Yankees are far worse than the Red Sox this season. That doesn’t mean much in the end, but when speculating, it is hard to fathom the Yankees being better than the Red Sox this season. The lineup is, as always, spectacular and I think Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter will both have better years than last. That being said I — like most others — have little faith in the Yankees pitching.

A.J. Burnett as a number two starter simply doesn’t cut it in a division stacked with hitting. Phil Hughes has looked awful in Spring Training and in his first start this year as his velocity has apparently vanished. I think the Yankees have the capability of reaching the postseason as a wild-card, but they will need to acquire a pitcher at the trade deadline in order to do so. It’s the Yankees, so of course they will.

3. Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles, Rays and Blue Jays all have a shot at third in this division and I think, while earning third place in any division doesn’t give you anything in terms of a postseason birth, third place in this division means something going forward. If the Orioles can beat out Tampa and Toronto it will be the most successful year in Baltimore since they last made the playoffs in 1997. The young nucleus — Matt Weiters, Adam Jones and a slew of young pitchers — is there and they were able to acquire some veterans this offseason in the form of Mark Reynolds and Vladimir Guerrero.

Baltimore just feels like the next up-and-coming team in this division. For the last couple of years it appeared as if Tampa would be the perennial challenge to the Yankees and Red Sox, but small-market disadvantages have finally caught up with them. Baltimore will be the next power in the American League. It won’t be this season, but one year soon.

4. Toronto Blue Jays

The hitting is pretty good, the pitching is pretty good, the bullpen is okay and the team defense is well below average; in the American League East that just won’t cut it. The Blue Jays have reasons to be hopeful moving forward — see Kyle Drabek, Travis Snyder — but they aren’t ready to challenge the top teams in the division.

5. Tampa Bay Rays

I give Tampa a slight edge over the Blue Jays because of starting pitching. Despite losing Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano to teams within the American League East, the Rays still have an above average starting rotation. David Price had an outstanding year last season and there is no reason to suggest that he will regress this year. Jeremy Hellickson is poised to have a breakout year as and the remainder of the rotation will put up solid numbers.

The lineup simply won’t produce at the level needed to back the pitching. The additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon certainly bring some intrigue but Damon is far removed from his prime, as is Ramirez. Longoria going on the DL in the first week of the year doesn’t help much either.

American League Central

1. Minnesota Twins

This division is traditionally a difficult one to predict. We can say with certainty that the Royals and Indians are out of the mix, but the top three teams all have potential to win the division. I picked Minnesota because I believe that Delmon Young is ready to have an MVP-caliber season. He hit .288/21 homeruns/112 runs-batted-in last season and he finally seems to have found his maturity. Combine his bat with Joe Mauer’s and Justin Morneau’s and suddenly the Twins have a loaded lineup.

The bullpen is excellent, as is the team defense, and if the starting rotation can hold up, the Twins should be able to beat out Chicago and Detroit for the division crown.

2. Chicago White Sox

I almost picked the White Sox over the Twins because they are going to score a ton of runs. That being said, their bullpen may struggle quite a bit and the starting rotation is anything but stable. If Jake Peavy can come off of the disabled list and pitch like he did back in San Diego, the White Sox will be one of the best teams in the American League. If he doesn’t, the White Sox may finish third in the division. That is how much an elite pitcher matters in this league.

3. Detroit Tigers

The addition of Victor Martinez helps bolster a lineup that only keeps getting older. Magglio Ordonez used to give Detroit great production in the middle of that lineup but it remains to be seen if he can continue to do so. I think Miguel Cabrerra is one of the three best hitters in the entire league and he can carry a ball-club on his back for weeks at a time throughout the course of a season.

The pitching is solid — the rotation is anchored by Justin Verlander — but Max Scherzer will need to have a breakout year and Rick Porcello will need to have a bounce-back one in order for the Tigers to compete.

4. Kansas City Royals

The Royals are extremely close to finally competing in the American League Central. It feels like we say this every year but it may be more true now than it has been in the last decade. The farm system is stacked with prospects after years of last-place finishes and in the next several years there could be a shift in power in this division.

But for now, the Royals still have a sufficient lack of talent in all areas of the game and will most likely be out of the playoff race early.

5. Cleveland Indians

Cleveland has a better lineup than Kansas City, but seriously, go look at their rotation and bullpen. Other than Pittsburgh it may be the worst in the majors and in this division, a lack of pitching gets you nothing but last place.

American League West

1. Texas Rangers

I’ve seen season projections this year that have completely disregarded the Texas Rangers. A few experts from ESPN have picked Oakland and some have picked Los Angeles. I am once again picking the Texas Rangers because they can flat out hit the cover off of the baseball.

I think Texas sweeping the Red Sox last weekend showed way more about Texas than it did about Boston. Texas reminded us how they got to the World Series last year: power. The Rangers’ lineup has more collective power than the Red Sox. I’m not saying that the Rangers have a better lineup, only that Texas can hit for more power 1-9.

The rotation is young and inexperienced but they proved last year that collectively they have enough talent to get the job done. If Brandon Webb can come off of the DL in May and give Texas anything, I think this division race could be locked up as early as it was last year.

2. Oakland Athletics

Because of Oakland’s pitching they became the sexy pick to win the AL west in preseason predictions. While I admit the rotation is extremely young and talented, Oakland’s lineup is average at best. The starting five and bullpen give Oakland an outside chance at the division crown, but let’s see how those young arms fare against the elite lineups in the game. I really like the addition of David DeJesus in right field as a hitter who consistently hits for average, but he is a complimentary player. So is Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Hideki Matsui … I think you get my point.

3. Los Angeles Angels

The Angels used to have a strangle hold on this division — winning five out of the last six before Texas knocked them off last year. It appears that, with the emergence of Texas and Oakland, the Angels are a long way away from reclaiming the division crown.

The lineup is certainly formidable but failing to land Carl Crawford makes all the difference. The bullpen is awful — they have Fernando Rodney closing — and the starting rotation is anchored by the inconsistent Jared Weaver and Dan Haren, who is recovering from injury.

4. Seattle Mariners

King Felix can pitch but no one else on the Mariners can. That may be a bit of an overstatement but the Mariners need to start a serious rebuilding process. Trading Felix Hernandez isn’t a bad start.