Clearing The Bases
Well all of the fantasy rankings have been completed, it’s time to talk about real life baseball. There will be very little fantasy talk in this column as I will be making predictions on how the divisions will end. Predictions are never all that easy and in some cases completely useless once the season begins and injuries occur, but still, they are fun to make and I’m not afraid to put mine in print. We will do the American League in the column followed by the senior circuit in the next.
- Toronto Blue Jays: This may be the best division in baseball, but it’s no longer highlighted by the Evil Empire and the Nation (Yankees and Red Sox). The division is also loaded with question marks and the Jays are no exception. Can OF Jose Bautista rebound from wrist surgery? Can 1B Edwin Encarnacion prove last year was no fluke? Can SS Jose Reyes stay healthy playing over half his games on artificial turf? Can 3B Brett Lawrie become the player he was expected to be? Can R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson pitch in the big boys league? Can Ricky Romero bounce back from a terrible 2012 season and elbow surgery? Can Sergio Santos and Casey Janssen prove healthy enough to close games? As you can see, plenty of questions. Lawrie will begin the season on the DL with Romero off to the minor leagues. Not a good start.
- Tampa Bay Rays: If the Rays had a better offense I’d be tempted to pick them but I just don’t see where the runs are going to come from. Yes, they have the best pitching staff in the division. David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, and Alex Cobb are as tough a quartet as there is but the offense is bargain basement. Third baseman Evan Longoria is a great player, but he is also someone who just can’t seem to stay healthy. Love MI/OF Ben Zobrist but he is not a star offensive juggernaut. Maybe OF Desmond Jennings will become the player he was predicted to be, maybe OF Wil Myers will be the thumper the lineup needs when he is called up later this season. To many maybes for me.
- New York Yankees: I was tempted to put the Yankees last but then I was reminded of something that I’ve heard from a few players, the Yankees always seem to win, even when they are not expected to. No one thought they would win 95 games last year, but they did. Now, this team has been decimated by injuries and free agent defections. The goal to get their payroll under $189 million and the age of their remaining starters could sink this team quick. Outfielder Curtis Granderson should be back in early May and 1B Mark Teixeira should be back a short time after that, but does anyone really think this team won’t suffer and other injuries this year? Can you really expect SP CC Sabathia or Andy Pettitte to make 30+ starts? That is a pipe dream. I’ll pick them third out of respect for what they have done in the past, but no playoffs this year.
- Baltimore Orioles: The O’s were a really nice story last season, giving the Yankees a run for the division title deep in September, but let’s not start to think this is a great team. This is a team heading in the right direction, but a work in progress none the less. Don’t really see them duplicating all those one-run and extra inning wins again. Their pitching staff is deeper than any in the division, but lacks a true ace (at least until Dylan Bundy is ready). They can certainly withstand an injury or two and not really be affected all that much, but the offense could use a tune up. Can 1B Chris Davis hit 30+ HRs again? Will OF Adam Jones jump into the top tier of players? How about 2B Brian Roberts, can he be the player he once was? Will 3B/SS Manny Machado be the next superstar. Now I love manager Buck Showalter and believe this team will continue to get better, but don’t see another magical season this year, might have felt differently had they added another big bat to the lineup.
- Boston Red Sox: Just because I picked Boston to finish last doesn’t mean I think they are a bad team. Truth is you can pretty much put the Yanks, Orioles, and Sox into a bowl and mix them up any way you like and I wouldn’t argue with it, but the Sox are rebuilding. They made that rather obvious with their trade of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford last season. They also lack depth to withstand injuries that are sure to hit. DH David Ortiz has still yet to recover from his Achilles injury from last year and OF Jacoby Ellsbury is one again banged up. Can their starting rotation possibly give them enough starts to be competitive. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz need to be the pitchers they once were for this team to even have a shot at competing. You can’t trust John Lackey coming off Tommy John surgery, Ryan Dempster didn’t fare to well in his half season in the AL last year, don’t see that getting much better, and Felix Doubront is certainly not the answer. Could be a long year in beantown.
- Detroit Tigers: If there is one prediction I feel comfortable with, Detroit is it. They are by far the best team in this division. There only true question mark is who will close out games for them. They no longer have Jose Valverde and rookie Bruce Rondon has yet to prove to anyone that he can get the job done. We know they can hit but their starting staff may be equally impressive, especially if Max Scherzer can pitch as well in a full season as he did the second half of last year. Would be a scary 1-2 with Justin Verlander.
- Chicago White Sox: The Sox actually played well for a good portion of the 2012 season before fading down the stretch. Chris Sale highlights a starting staff they can be quite good if everything falls in their direction. Now, Sale seems to be an arm problem waiting to happen, but there is no guarantee this will be the year he gets hurt. If healthy he will be a Cy Young contender. Offensively they have some work that needs to be done. They will miss C A. J. Pierzynski especially if he were to hit 25+ HRs again. They will need OF Alex Rios and 1B Paul Konerko to carry the load.
- Kansas City Royals: Did the Royals do the right thing when they traded super prospect OF Wil Myers for SP James Shields? We will find out shortly as Shields will be the ace of an improved, but not great staff. There are also questions about how effective Shields will be no longer pitching in a dome. The biggest problem for the Royals may be that even if Shields is as good as ever, the remainder of the rotation is questionable at best with Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, Wade Davis, and Luis Mendoza filling it out. The Royals had better hit.
- Cleveland Indians: Like the 3-5 spots in the East, the 2-4 spots in the Central are almost interchangeable. On the surface you have to like what the Indians did in the free agent market by signing OFs Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn but are those players really what they needed? Can Swisher hit outside of the Yankee Stadium? Can Bourn do anything but play a great defensive CF and steal bases? I wanted to pick this team higher but there is not one sure thing in that rotation. Ubaldo Jimenez has been close to terrible since being acquired from the Rockies. Does anyone really think Brett Myers will succeed? Scott Kazmir, really.
- Minnesota Twins: If not for the incoming Houston Astros, this would be the worst team in the American League. I mean come on, Vance Worley is going to start Opening Day, that really is enough said. Now they do have good minor league prospects in SPs Kyle Gibson and Alex Meyer, but they won’t help this year. Will they trade 1B Justin Morneau if they can get an offer they like, how about OF Josh Willingham? That is the only thing to watch for from the Twins this season, what they end up doing at the deadline.
- Oakland Athletics: Now I know the Angels are the popular pick to win the division if not the entire AL because of the sexy free agent signings they have made over the past couple of seasons but I just don’t see it. The A’s have a pitching staff that can shut down anyone and a very underrated offense. Yoenis Cespedes could very well be the next superstar in the league. He can do it all, hitting for power, has speed, and a good arm in the OF. IF Jed Lowrie was an astute pick up as he can play just about anywhere in the field and if he can stay healthy, add yet another bat to the lineup. There SPs are young but they are good. Brett Anderson may finally realize his potential and Jarrod Parker could be right behind him. Really like this team.
- Los Angeles Angels: They signed yet another big name free agent in OF Josh Hamilton. This actually was a double bonus as they not only get better offensively, but they also weaken a division rival. Problem is it may not have solved their biggest need which is in the starting rotation. Sure this team is going to score a boatload of runs, but can they keep the opponents from doing the same. Jered Weaver is still a good pitcher but did have arm problems last year and his velocity continues to drop. C.J. Wilson was pretty much a bust last year. Jason Vargas doesn’t scare anyone, Tommy Hanson is Tommy John surgery waiting to happen, and Joe Blanton is nothing but a possible innings eater. Plenty of high scoring games in Southern California.
- Texas Rangers: For a team that went to back to back World Series, the Rangers have issues. Their OF will consist of David Murphy, Leonys Martin, and Nelson Cruz, not exactly murderer’s row. Infield is still good with Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler, but this is not the offensive machine it once was. Really think the Rangers made a mistake in not trading SS Elvis Andrus for OF Justin Upton, would’ve really been a perfect match and also would’ve given SS Jurickson Profar a place to play. The pitching staff is possibly a tick above average with Yu Darvish a possible Cy Young candidate but they really need Matt Harrison and Derek Holland to be consistently good game in and game out.
- Seattle Mariners: Mariners are another team that is getting better although I didn’t understand a few of their moves in the off-season. Seems to me they just couldn’t sign enough 1B, OF, DH types. They acquired Kendrys Morales from Los Angeles, Michael Morse from Washington, and signed Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez, and they still have Justin Smoak. Going to be some unhappy hitters sitting on the bench. Now if we look at their pitching, give this team a year or two for some of their youngsters to arrive, and watch out, they could be electric once again.
- Houston Astros: What can we say about this team? This will not be a fun first season in the American League. Matter of fact it would be a pretty big shock if they didn’t lose 100+ games. They may be the reason that both wild card teams come out of this division
Los Angeles and Tampa Bay
World Series Representative
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