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The 2011 season could not have ended more painfully for the Red Sox but the house cleaning may be what this talented team needed. The pitching staff should still be excellent and this is a lineup that had three MVP candidates last year. Carl Crawford and Kevin Youkilis are both candidates for bounce back seasons and this is still a World Series contender. The Yankees made some shrewd moves to bolster the pitching staff with Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda added to the rotation but the aging offense did not get an upgrade. Tampa Bay made a great late run to the playoffs last season and again will be formidable this season with a great pitching staff and Toronto could be on the verge of a breakthrough season knowing that a second wild card spot greatly improves their chances even though there are questions in the back of the rotation. There is not the optimism for the Orioles that existed heading into last year but Baltimore has a fairly solid lineup. Trusting a young and mostly unproven pitching staff to hold up in a division with some great offensive talent is a whole another matter however.
BEST BET: OVER 90½ Wins – Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox had a historic collapse last season and still managed to win 90 games. The Red Sox got nothing positive out of Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey last season and also got limited innings from Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz. While Boston is taking some risks with Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves moving into the rotation the potential reward is great and this is a lineup that can be the best in baseball this season with improvement from Crawford. Andrew Bailey should smoothly take over the closer role and while this is a very tough division Boston looks like it has the highest ceiling of the five teams.
This is generally a weaker division that often lacks a clear cut favorite but that won’t be the case this season as Detroit opens the year as by far the heaviest favorite in any division. The Tigers made up for the injury to Victor Martinez by winning the Prince Fielder derby and after a 95-win season the expectations are sky high for the this team. Kansas City is a team getting noticed with a very solid lineup but there are still big questions in the pitching staff with closer Joakim Soria likely out for the year. Jonathan Sanchez can help but this should still be a very weak starting rotation. Cleveland made a lot of noise early last season before fading late in the year but Cleveland looks like a solid all around team that can again be very competitive. Chicago and Minnesota both have a lot of question marks this season but both teams have capable stables of starting pitchers and if there are some rebound years either offense could be good enough to contend in this division after great disappointment last season. Minnesota’s lineup certainly doesn’t inspire confidence but the Twins usually perform their best when less is expected, unlike last season. The White Sox sill have good power in the lineup and in a division with suspect pitching Chicago can certainly compete, starting a new era with manager Ozzie Guillen departing for Miami.
BEST BET: Under 93½ Wins – Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander just had one of the best seasons by a starting pitcher in many years and he logged a ridiculous amount of innings last year. He has been durable but certainly there should be some concern and the division should be stronger offensively so he won’t be able to feast on the weak lineups filled with AAA players that he often saw late last year to post career numbers. The rest of the rotation is lot shakier than most seem to perceive. Max Scherzer and Rick Porecello both had strong records but both were wildly inconsistent and Doug Fister is not likely to repeat the great run he had late last year. The lineup is fierce but Detroit plays in a pitching friendly park so expecting huge power numbers from Fielder is not realistic. Delmon Young is as streaky as it gets and Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn have not completely proven they can be everyday guys. Defensively Detroit might be one of the worst teams in the AL as well with Miguel Cabrera moving to third base and losing Adam Everett as shortstop.
With only four teams the AL West looks like the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ with the Angels and Rangers loading up this winter with a couple of big signings and the A’s and Mariners left to pick up the pieces and build from within. The Angels add Albert Pujols to give Los Angeles a luxury of offensive talent albeit it is an aging team in many areas. Los Angeles also adds C.J. Wilson from the rival Rangers to bolster the rotation. Texas also has great offensive talent after falling short in the World Series in back-to-back seasons. Yu Darvish and Neftali Feliz are the wild cards for Texas as they will make or break what could be a solid starting rotation. Oakland made a lot of moves in the off-season though few would be considered positive by most observers. Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Guillermo Moscoso are pitching for different teams this year despite moderate success last year and the A’s biggest signing was Yoenis Cespedes, a big gamble from Cuba. Seattle improved by six-games last season and while going 67-95 is hard to feel good about, the Mariners are building from within now rather than bringing on risky big contracts that backfire. There is some young talent on the roster and while this should again be one of the worst offensive teams in the AL the numbers could improve slightly. There are some real unknowns with the pitching staff however as behind Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas there are many question marks.
BEST BET: No Play: The Angels and Rangers both look like they will be formidable and both are deep enough to handle some injuries or underperforming veterans. Both teams have good pitching staffs with the Rangers looking a bit more suspect in the rotation but Texas has a great crop of prospects ready to jump in if needed. Both teams have the money to make midseason moves if needed as well so it would be surprising if this was not a two team race with both teams winning 90+ games and in the mix for the wild card spots as well. Oakland has been such a consistently decent team in recent years even though the A’s have not had a winning record since 2006, they also have not won fewer than last year’s 74 games in that span. Oakland always seems to be able to plug young pitchers in to find success with its low-scoring ballpark. Seattle also has a promising enough lineup that the Mariners could improve on the past two years and be a competitive, albeit still a losing team.