(BYB's 2007 Detroit Tigers and AL Central previews can be found below.)
With today being an off-day in Detroit, I figured I'd finish off my season preview. Which teams will win the other divisions? Which two will we see at the end of October? And who will take home those individual trophies?
At the risk of being a homer, the Tigers are my pick to win the AL Central (yes, even after yesterday's Opening Day loss). Here are the teams that should join them in the post-season.
● American League
AL East: New York Yankees
AL West: Los Angeles Angels
Wild Card: Boston Red Sox
▪▪ Ultimately, I think starting pitching will be the difference between the Yankees and Red Sox. Boston's staff might look better right now, especially when Curt Schilling's now playing for a contract, but Philip Hughes could be the difference down the stretch. Toronto should make things very interesting, as well.
In the West, I'm applying much the same logic. Dan Haren is a sleeper for the Cy Young Award, but I think the Angels' staff is stronger overall. And so is their lineup.
(You know who we should all be picking? The Texas Rangers. Look at what happened to the Yankees and Diamondbacks the year after Buck Showalter was fired from those teams.)
● National League
NL East: Atlanta Braves
NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
Wild Card: New York Mets
▪▪ Atlanta's bullpen essentially took them out of the NL East race last year, and I love what they did to upgrade in the off-season. Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano could be closers on most every other team. The Braves will be, dare I say, nasty from the seventh inning on. Meanwhile, the Mets lost out badly on their hopes for better starting pitching.
Out west, I really like the Diamondbacks, but it might be a year too early for them to overtake the Dodgers. And in the Central, I think pitching carries the Brewers above the cluster-you-know-what. But stay healthy, Ben Sheets.
● The Post-Season
In the AL playoffs, a nation will weep as we're deprived of a Yankees-Red Sox series. But the Yankees will make it to the ALCS, where they'll face the Tigers. And for the second year in a row, Detroit will make it a frustrating post-season for New York.
In the NL, I know Atlanta's not very good with this post-season thing, but I think their pitching will get them to the NLCS, where they'll face the Dodgers. And that should be a great series, but I'll pick the Dodgers.
So it'll be the Tigers and Dodgers in the World Series. And much like the Pistons denied the Lakers a championship the last time they faced each other in the NBA Finals, I think the Tigers will follow through on the promise they couldn't cash in on last year. As I said in my Tigers preview, Jim Leyland will remind his team that they really didn't win anything last season, and that motivation will push them over the top.
A homer pick? Sure, maybe. But it's not like this actually couldn't happen, right?
● Most Valuable Player
AL: Grady Sizemore
NL: Jose Reyes
▪▪ Even though Travis Hafner might be the most dangerous hitter in Cleveland's lineup, it'll be their best everyday player that keeps them in the race with Detroit. Sizemore is already the best player in the AL Central, and this year, the rest of the league will take notice.
In the NL, no one can beat you in more ways than Reyes. Last year, it finally came together for him, and this season, he'll improve on his numbers across the board. And the Mets will need everything he has to stay with the Braves.
● Cy Young Award
AL: Johan Santana
NL: Carlos Zambrano
▪▪ I know it's a boring pick, but until someone shows they're better than Santana, I'm going with the best. Of course, he's not completely invulnerable, and his teammates will have a say in his won-loss record, so it's possible for someone else to stake a claim. Roy Halladay, perhaps?
Zambrano had me briefly reconsidering my pick yesterday, but he still looks like the best pitcher in the league, and represents the Cubs' best chance to compete in the NL Central.
But really, both of these guys should be nervous. Last year, I thought Rich Harden and Mark Mulder would win, and neither of them finished the season. So watch out, fellas.
● Rookie of the Year
AL: Daisuke Matsuzaka
NL: Chris Young
▪▪ Veteran Japanese players shouldn't be eligible for this award. You know it, and I know it. But if Matsuzaka is all he's hyped up to be - and I'm starting to buy into that - then the Red Sox could take the AL East from the Yankees, and his first year in the majors won't be ignored. But Alex Gordon will be impressive enough to make the vote interesting - especially if anyone feels a pure home-grown prospect should win it.
As I said before, I think the Diamondbacks will make things interesting in the AL West, and Young's five-tool talent will be a big reason for that. He could be a superstar in the making. You think the White Sox ever wish they could have him back?