This week, the UCB is building up to the start of the season by previewing and making predictions about the various leagues and divisions of MLB. We'll start today with the Junior Circuit. Here's my thoughts on who will finish where and why:
1. Red Sox
4. Blue Jays
*=wild card winner
I LOVE what the BoSox did this offseason. They lost out on Texeira, but they then wisely used their money to add pitching depth, both starting and relief. Their top three starters (Beckett, Dice-K, Lester) are as good as anyone, and Wakefield and Bucholtz have pitched so well this spring, they are going to take their time bringing Smoltz and Penny along. Even more important, they added several quality arms in front of Paplebon, which was a weakness last year. Their offense is not as good as a few years ago, but it should it be plenty good enough with that staff. As much as I'd like the Rays to repeat their success from last year, the fact is that with their budget, they need everything to break their way. A few injuries, and they'll be hurting. I just don't see their luck holding-up two years in a row. Still, they have so many good young players, they can't help but be in the hunt. The Yankees, on the other hand, are one the few teams that can buy any part they may need, and they should be much better than last year based on starting pitching alone. Like the Red Sox, they can no longer just mash their way to the playoffs, and that is a concern with several aging hitters not to mention the health questions with A-Rod. Still, I think they have too much talent to miss out two years in a row. For the Bluejays, they were contenders last year, but have lost too much pitching to free agency and injuries. The Orioles are showing signs of life this spring, but are probably still two years away from being good again.
3. White Sox
This is the toughest division in baseball to call I think. There are no terrible teams (though the tigers could be) I think, but no great ones either. The Twins seem never spend enough to win, but they always do. They have great young pitching, so I'm going with them. That said, like the Rays, they are only a couple of injuries away from trouble. The Joe Mauer situation is already troubling for a very thin line-up. Can Delmon Young finally step-up? The Indians are due for a bounce back I think. Key will be Hafner regaining his stroke and Carmona being healthy to back-up Lee in the rotation. DeRosa and Wood represent major upgrades at 3B and Closer respectively though. The White Sox are going towards a youth movement. They still have the talent to win the division, but I'm expecting enough growing pains to keep them just out of it. The Royals probably won't stink for the first time in a long time this year. They've upgraded their bullpen, as well as at CF (Crisp) and 1B (Jacobs), still, they are at least a year away from contending. The Tigers have the best line-up in the division still, but tons of questions with all aspects of the pitching staff. That's enough to earn last place in this tough division.
The Angles have big pitching concerns heading into the season, but it seems that Santana, Lackey, and Escobar will all be back sometime in May. They may struggle in April, but in this weak division, they are still far and away the best team. Sure, their line-up isn't great, but it's good enough once their stellar starting pitching is intact. The A's represent the best hope for a challenger. They should have a much improved line-up with Holliday, Orlando Cabrerra, and a seemingly healthy Chavez this year. Their pitching, however, is basically a bunch of rookies. Sure, they have talent, but over the course of the season there are bound to be a lot of hiccups. The Rangers likewise have a lot of good young talent. Their GM, Daniels, did a great job a couple of years ago knowing when to blow his team up and rebuild. Most consider their minor league system right now to be the best in baseball. Still, it's going to be a couple of more years till they will be back to playing winning baseball. The Mariners, on the other hand, may find it more difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They brought back Junior, but his glory days, as well as the team's, are a long time gone.
NL east tomorrow. NL Central Wednesday. NL West Thursday. Postseason predictions and Awards Friday. Check out the UCB's new website and see everyone's thoughts on the upcoming season as well: http://www.unitedcardinalbloggers.com/.