Elmhurst Pub Roundtable

Where the beer is cold and the conversation loud...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

AL Preview

So I've been working on this bit by bit for about a week and here's my breakdown as of this second in the American League:

AL East

In order of finish, I'd go Yankees, Boston, Toronto, Tampa, Baltimore. Regardless as to what is going on right now, the Yankees have the best lineup baseball has ever seen. Now having the ability to move Jeter from leadoff to a more suited 2-hole in the lineup will only make them that much more powerful. Where is the weak spot? Second base is all you could possibly suggest from an offensive perspective. Cano is a second year player who needs better plate discipline. Even with him there, this team will destroy bad pitching. Defensively, still weak. Damon covers tremendous ground but his arm is worse than Williams'. Matsui is average at best in Left, though those on the Pancake Breakfast tend to disagree with me a bit here. But that's about it. Pitching leaves question maks - Can Pavano recover, will Wright have the year he had in Atlanta 2 years ago, is Wang that good, will Chacon and Small have years close to what they did last year, and how old are Johnson and Mussina? But they have the best closer in baseball and can afford to give up 5-7 runs a game when you'll score 7-10.

Boston has question marks in a lot of "ifs": If Foulke returns to '04 form, If Schilling is healthy, If Beckett can stay off the DL, If Lowell isn't D-U-N, If Crisp can compare to Damon. Sure, should these come true, this Boston team is dangerous. If they sign Clemens, even more so. But they seem to be building for '07, '08, and '09 with some of the recent moves (Pena, Crisp). Not saying they're throwing away this season, because defensively this team is much better now than they were last year at any point, but I don't think they're pushing for a title in '06. Offensively, they still have Manny and Papi, and in a lot of cases that's enough. I like this team's makeup because I think these starters will come through in one sense or another. My concern is at the end of the bullpen. Should Foulke falter in Texas opening weekend, he will be booed opening day in Boston, deserved or not. He might not be able to recover from that.

Toronto is interesting, but they were 15 games behind Boston and NY last year. Making that up in one off season isn't entirely likely. Are they closer? Certainly. Burnett has one of the best arms in the game, Halladay is healthy, and Ryan was a solid acquisition at closer. I don't like some of the offensive moves. Troy Glaus makes me nervous if I'm a Jays fan. Expecially if they bet the farm and trade away a guy like Hillenbrand. Lyle Overbay is good, but his stats aren't hugely superior to what they would have had there anyway. He'll hit more homers than most, but a .300-25-85 year is probably more likely than .320-35-100. Tampa will get out of the basement because they have more young talent than Baltimore and the pitching is better. They'll give some teams fits this year. Baltimore is in trouble. They're best offseason acquisition was Leo Mazzone...and he can't help Kris Benson.

AL CENTRAL

The question of a ChiSox repeat should be answered early. This looks like the second best team in the division at this point. They added Thome, who will more than make up for what was lost in Everett and the pitching additions are fantastic. I like Cleveland to finish first in this division, given they nearly did that last year but faltered in the last week or so. The young offensive talent this team currently has now knows what playing meaningful games down the stretch is like and the pitching should be about equal to last seasons as well, despite the loss of Milwood. Minnesota has the talent to contend, but not the offense. Without another power hitter in the middle of the lineup, this team is destined to finish a distant third. Jim Leyland will take over and finish the turnaround Alan Trammel started. Look for the Tigers to be the surprise of the season and finish at .500 for the first time in years. Kansas City....well, I apologize.

AL WEST

Probably going to be the most balanced division in baseball this year. Oakland has put together another great team and looks to me to be the division favorite. Deep starting rotation, play great defense and will get a healthy Bobby Crosby back to start the season. Add Huston Street to that mix and to me that's your division winner. No other team talent wise can stack up out West. Anaheim made no real moves this offseason. They have a great farm system and a couple prospects on the horizon, but relying on rookies in the second half of this year won't win a division flag or set up for a post-season run. Morales, Kendrick, and Mathis will be good, but not this year. Anderson is getting older, and Vlad is due for an extended DL stint this year. They just didn't make enough moves. Seattle's biggest problem will be pitching. Beltre and Sexson are still stalwarts in the middle of the order and Johijma seems to be adjusting well to the American game. Jeremy Reed was coveted by a lot of teams this offseason and will rebound from the career .300 OBP guy he currently is and Ichiro is Ichiro. Felix Hernandez looks good and will continue to dominate as he moves along. But relying on Everyday Eddie and Jamie Moyer too heavily will require this team to make another move. Bring in another #2/3 kind of guy and I take Seattle more seriously. Texas is another team I like. Milwood and Eaton at the top of the rotation make them much more beilevable. Looks like they realized that pitching wins. They already had great, young, offensive talent and that won't change with Teixeira, Young, Mench, Blalock, etc. I say they finish second to Oakland this year and make a run at the wildcard.

BREAKDOWN

So how does it go down?
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Cleveland
AL West: Oakland
Wild Card: Chicago
AL Champion: Oakland

MVP: Eric Chavez
Cy Young: Roy Halladay
Rookie of the Year: Francisco Liriano (I'd say Papelbon, but I don't think his role will be definied enough)
Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter

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