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For those of you deep thinkers, "No, I didn't wait five days so I could be sure the Red Sox weren't gonna stink." These picks are the result of countless hours (oh, about four) of researching the 14 American League teams (aka, reading SI's preview) and formulating thoughts about how they'll fare ("The Rangers can't pitch!%#!).
Continue reading at your own peril...
1. Boston Red Sox (95-67):
They have the league's best pitcher (Josh Beckett), one of its best rotations, and it's a contract year for Manny Ramirez. Plus, the Yankees aren't as powerful as they were. That's enough for the division title.
2. Toronto Blue Jays (90-72):
I know this ain't right — and probably just flat-out dumb — but don't sleep on the Jays, who are always good but completely overshadowed by those pair of teams from the States. They've got a solid lineup and an even better rotation, led by the under-the-radar-brilliant Roy Halladay.
3. New York Yankees (89-73):
There are simply too many question marks with that starting rotation. The young guys (specifically Philip Hughes and Ian Kennedy) will be shutdown pitchers at times, but they'll be inconsistent. Sure, the lineup is scary, but everyone's getting older, including overpaid leadoff hitter Johnny Damon.
4. Tampa Bay Rays (80-82):
Look out! The Rays almost put together their first .500 season before losing five of their last six. The main reason for this is much improved starting pitching — their top three led by Scott Kazmir will be tough — and a man named Evan Longoria. 'Nuff said.
5. Baltimore Orioles (69-93):
What a shame that another season will go by with one of the league's great stadiums, Camden Yards, showing off lots of empty, green seats. Sure, Baltimore's future got brighter thanks to trading Erik Bedard to the Mariners for a bunch of prospects, but this season in this division? Ouch.
1. Cleveland Indians (92-70):
It won't be easy, but expect the tribe to win its second consecutive division crown. While the Tigers boast the majors' scariest lineup — at least on paper — we all know that pitching trumps hitting, and that's what the Indians have: two 19-game winners in C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona and a bullpen that is good from the setup men to closer Joe Borowski. A very similar lineup to the '07 version will score enough runs for Cleveland's pitchers.
2. Detroit Tigers (90-72):
OK, I'm cheating here. I'll be honest — Detroit's 0-4 start against mediocre teams in Kansas City and Chicago could come back to haunt it. In a division this good — and a league this good — four-game slides are unacceptable. The offense will get going for the Tigers, especially once leadoff man Curtis Granderson returns. However, the pitching staff simply doesn't have the magic that made it special in '06, and the bullpen is a mess.
3. Minnesota Twins (79-83):
The idea of picking the Twins to finish any worse than third just doesn't appeal to me — they always prove the doubters wrong. Forget that they dealt their ace Johan Santana to the New York Mets and let Torii Hunter bolt for Los Angeles. They still have solid starting pitching, great relief pitching, a killer closer in Joe Nathan and an underrated middle of the lineup. Unless they deal some of their hot commodities before the trade deadline, they'll hang around .500 all season.
4. Chicago White Sox (77-85):
I actually like this team better than a year ago. Of course, that's not hard to do. The White Sox were terrible in '07. I like the acquisitions of Nick Swisher and Orlando Cabrera. With all of their purportedly strong middle of the lineup back, they have no excuses not to score runs. Their starting pitchers and relievers, outside of closer Bobby Jenks, are young and not exactly lights-out.
5. Kansas City Royals (75-87):
I sincerely hate to do this, because I think the Royals have better than a last-place squad, but this will be a competitive division, and they'll draw the short stick like usual. Sorry, Royals fans. K.C. has a stud in Alex Gordon, a power-hitting free agent pickup in Jose Guillen, and another young stud in Billy Butler. The Royals even have three no-name starting pitchers who had sub-4.00 ERA's last season. Sadly, they're still a cellar dweller.
1. Los Angeles Angels (90-72):
It won't be an easy ride to the division title with the early injuries to Nos. 1 and 2 starters John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, but the Angels have good pitching depth and the middle of their lineup is downright scary. The idea of facing Gary Matthews Jr., Vladimir Guerrero, Garret Anderson, and Hunter in a row is daunting. Add shutdown closer Francisco Rodriguez to the mix, and the Angels are back in the playoffs.
2. Seattle Mariners (86-76):
Expectations are high in the Emerald City, where nothing short of a playoff bid will be considered acceptable. Unfortunately for the M's, that's exactly what will happen — a repeat of last season. Starters such as young Felix Hernandez and the newly acquired Carlos Silva are good, but they're too inconsistent. That will be the theme for a team that doesn't exactly boast a powerful lineup — sixth hitter Adrian Beltre had the most home runs of any Mariner last season with 26. Good at times, bad at others. Come October, not enough.
3. Oakland Athletics (74-88):
The A's are like the Twins: they never look very impressive on paper, yet they always find a way to contend for the division or at least record a solid record. This season, they'll be a little down, but not enough to finish last in the West. Yes, minus Nick Swisher their lineup is anemic. Yes, minus stud pitcher Danny Haren (gone to Arizona) their rotation is inexperienced. But, no, that's not enough for them to fall behind the pitchers-less Rangers.
4. Texas Rangers (69-93):
How 'bout them Rangers? I'll say this — if I lived near Arlington, I'd gobble up some cheap season tickets, because there are going to be some serious runs scored. Thanks to the additions of feel-good-story Josh Hamilton, explosive Milton Bradley, and solid No. 8 hitter Ben Broussard, the Rangers boast a scary lineup 1-9. (OK, 1-8, since catcher Gerald Laird isn't exactly intimidating). Put that lineup with the Twins pitching, and you have yourself a playoff team. Problem is, Texas' pitchers are either bad (for lack of a better word) or inexperienced. Yeah, plenty of runs will be scored in the Lone Star State.
American League Division Series:
No. 1 Boston def. No. 4 Detroit (4 games): The Tigers have to beat the Blue Jays in a playoff just to make the postseason, and Beckett greets them with his nasty October stuff. — No. 2 Cleveland def. No. 3 Los Angeles (5 games): Indians pitchers shut down Angels sluggers, and Travis Hafner, aka "Pronk," makes up for his no-show in last year's postseason with a pair of doubles and a pivotal home run.
American League Championship Series:
No. 1 Boston def. No. 2 Cleveland (6 games): A rematch of last season's ALCS gains the same result, as Beckett wins two more games to add to his legacy and the rest of the Red Sox do just enough. Ramirez continues to make his bid for another huge contract with a big-time series.
You'll have to wait until my National League preview. Stay tuned...