Predicted finishing order:
2. Red Sox*
5. Blue Jays
*Wild Card team
Analysis: It would be pretty surprising for the Yanks to not win the division again. They probably don't have quite the offensive firepower they did last year, but the rotation should be stronger with Vazquez and Hughes at the back end and they should definitely be better in the outfield defensively. The Red Sox also look to have improved defensively and in the starting rotation. Their line-up is not as strong as previous years though, so I think they are destined for the wild-card. They'll be a tough out in the postseason though with their pitching. The poor Rays very well may be the third best team in the American league this year, but that also means third best in this division. Their starters are probably right there with the Sox and Yanks, but they just don't have the depth. Any injuries, and they'll fall out the race quickly. The Orioles and Jays are both basically in rebuilding mode. The Orioles picked-up enough veterans in the off-season though that I think they avoid finishing last again.
2. White Sox
Losing Nathan was a big blow for the Twins. I know stat geeks say closers are overrated, but Nathan was one of only a handful of feared, elite shut-down guys in all of baseball. That being said, these guys always seem to find a way, and both the everyday line-up and rotation look stronger than last year, which should compensate for Nathan's loss. The White Sox also look to have a strong rotation, but are very young most everywhere else. I just don't see them having enough offense to stay with the Twins over the long haul. The Tigers have a lot questions, primarily the rotation after Verlander and Porcello. The bullpen also needs to be much better than last year. Valverde will help greatly, but Zumaiya needs to return to form as well. They have a ton of talent though, and could easily challenge the Twins with the right breaks going there way. The Indians should be better than last year, but are a couple of years away from being back in contention. The Royals, on the other hand, should easily be the worst team in the AL and maybe in all of baseball and have little hope for the future beyond Greinke.
For the first time in a while, this division should be interesting. A lot of people are picking the Mariners, but I don't see it. Sure, they have arguably baseball's best 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation in King Felix and Cliff Lee. They should be great defensively and their bullpen is underrated. Scoring runs? That could be a problem. If you are relying on Milton Bradley to be your big bat, that's not good. Therefore, I like the Angels to prevail again ultimately in what should be a much tighter race. The Angels have no true ace, but 5 very good starters. They have no superstar in the line-up, but it's solid from top to bottom. Their bullpen is one area that should be improved this year with the addition of Rodney and the return of Shields. In other words, they are a team of no great strengths, but no real weaknesses either. The Rangers are another team that could challenge them, but consistent pitching is tough for them to find in that offensive ballpark. I think next year might be their year though because they have maybe the best young talent in baseball. The A's look to be the odd team out, but they too should be improved and will factor into the race but giving the other three teams a tougher time then last year. Like I said, and much more interesting division than in previous years where the Angels were just so much better than everyone else.
That's it for the AL. Obviously, I see it holding to form from last year, but I think the races will all be close. The East has the three best teams. Nathan's injury makes the Central wide open and the rest of the West has definitely closed the gap on the Angels.