West: 1. LAAOA 2. OAK 3. SEA 4. TEX I would really, really like to think that the gig is finally up for the Angels, whose record last year is highly misleading. And, certainly, with the injuries in their excellent-if-healthy pitching staff the division (remember that less than 10 years ago this was a powerhouse?) is ripe for the plucking. But I don’t see who else is going to do the picking, and think the below-market Abreu signing may save them. I can’t pick the A’s with the kind of rotation they’re throwing out there, although their offense has improved. The Mariners at least have an idea of what they want to do, and until the Angels get healthy probably have the best rotation in the division supported by an incredible OF defense, although the back end remains pretty dire. But the offense lacks both power and on-base ability and the bullpen is to shaky for a team that will need to win close games. The Rangers are an interesting team looking ahead, but it’s hard for teams in bandboxes to develop pitching staffs, so I think they’re a year away.
Central: 1. CLE 2. CHI 3. DET 4. MIN 5. KC And remember when this division looked like it would be really powerful? I don’t especially like any of these teams. Cleveland, though, is a pretty obvious pick despite the ongoing lack of power in the OF corners: the offense is very solid, although the rotation is just OK assuming Lee comes back to earth, and singing Wood will help. After that, it’s desperate work to pick. Most statheads seem to see a White Sox collapse, and certainly Williams doing stuff like starting the year with nothing remotely resembling a major league CF doesn’t inspire confidence. Still, I think their rotation is underrated, and the Ramirez/Quentin/Thome/Dye core should score enough runs to compete in this division, especially if Fields takes a step forward or Konerko a step back. The Tigers still have a pretty good offense with a high upside, but with their pitching they’re probably a better candidate to finish 5th than 1st. I don’t think the Twins can afford to miss two months of Mauer, leaving them with basically a one-man offense (especially since that one remaining man is overrated), and their pitching isn’t any better and probably worse than Cleveland’s, even if they have the division’s best closer. The Royals are beginning to put their world together, but the back end of their rotation is unnecessarily atrocious and they also distinctly lack championship-quality hitters.
EAST: 1. BOS 2. NYY(*) 3. TB 4. TOR 5.BAL I admit this against my instinct; I initially thought that letting Teixera go to the Yankees, while perhaps the right long-term decision, handed the division to a team that otherwise just wouldn’t have had the offense. And if the Yankees’ potentially superb rotation stays healthy it very well might. The Red Sox also have some flaws in their lineup — not much punch in the OF (where the best hitter can’t stay healthy), no SS, a very leaderly and clutchy offensive black hole at catcher, and I don’t believe in Lowell. Wait, why am I picking them again? Well, I like the depth in their rotation more, and between their age, inury risks and realities, and dubious bottom-end the Yankees have their own offensive issues. And Rivera probably doesn’t have more than 15 years left in him as the best closer in the game. (Seriously, 77/6 K/W ratio? 0.665 WHIP? It’s like every year is the postseason now.) Anyway, I think they’re both going to the playoffs. The Braves are the only miracle team to emerge as a good team. The Rays actually have a decent chance to be the second — they would certainly be clear favorites in any other division in baseball — but in this competitive context I worry about the youth of their starting pitching and a bullpen that likely overachieved last year. Still, they’re very good; if the Yankees’ injuries or Red Sox willing to carry offensive dead spots catches up to them, they could win the division again. The Blue Jays have become the new Gabe Paul Indians, with more pitching and less offense; they don’t really have bad players but they don’t have any good players (at least in the sense of anyone who should be leading off or hitting 3-4-5 in a major league lineup), although maybe Lind or Snyder will emerge as one. Riccardi is sort of the same — not as obviously incompetent as a Littlefield or Bonifay, but certainly not good enough to compete in this division. And with Ryan pretty obviously hurt…it’s sad to see Halladay wasting his career on a team like this. I like the Orioles long term a lot more, but this year will still be bleak; they’ll outscore Toronto but the hideous rotation will keep them in last place another year.