For the past three years now, I've told myself that I would get these previews out of the way before the first week of the season, so I wasn't trying to cram them in on Opening Day. Yet here we are. Ultimately, I blame Gary Sheffield. If the Tigers hadn't released him, it would've been a nice, quiet week, and I could've posted my sure-to-be-wrong predictions sooner.
But really, I probably shouldn't be wasting our collective time. Last year, I picked both Detroit and Seattle to make the playoffs. Yes, the Mariners. Really. Boy, that was a good one.
My AL Central picks will be in a separate post later on, as we'll go a bit more in-depth with the Tigers' division rivals. But for now, these are the teams that will earn a ticket to the postseason.
● AL East: Boston Red Sox
● AL Central: Minnesota Twins
● AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
● Wild Card: Tampa Bay Rays
The New York Yankees were definitely the champions of the offseason, and their team stimulus package may well push them into the playoffs. However, I still like the Red Sox's overall pitching staff (especially their bullpen), and acquisitions such as John Smoltz and Takashi Saito are going to make a big difference later in the year. I also think they have the juice in their minor league system to make a key deal at the trade deadline, if/when necessary, and that gives them the edge over the Yankees and Rays.
In the West, I realize that most of the Angels' starting rotation is beginning the season on the disabled list. But when those guys come back, that staff looks strong (especially if they can flip Gary Matthews, Jr. for another starter), and I also like how they didn't settle for letting one of their incumbent relievers take over for Francisco Rodriguez and signed Brian Fuentes to be their closer. Oakland's kind of a chic pick, but despite some nice pick-ups for their lineup, that's a seriously unproven pitching staff.
● NL East: Atlanta Braves
● NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals
● NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers
● Wild Card: Philadelphia Phillies
The defending World Series champions didn't do anything to become a worse team, but I feel like they needed to pick up another starting pitcher, rather than sign Raul Ibanez, a move which still baffles me a bit. Meanwhile, Atlanta brought in Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez, and if Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez stay healthy, that Braves bullpen looks fantastic.
Why not the Mets? After Johan Santana, that starting rotation looks potentially terrifying. Omar Minaya should've addressed that, instead of chasing Gary Sheffield, though I wish the Tigers would've bolstered their bullpen the way the Mets did.
In the Central, the Cubs could be the most talented team, but I feel like a couple of their guys (Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano) could be due for a down year. And that starting rotation may have overachieved last season. Why the Cardinals? If Chris Carpenter can stay healthy, they might have the best #4 starter in the league. I also like the depth of their lineup.
I really wanted to pick the Diamondbacks in the West, because they might have the best 1-2 starting pitchers in the majors, let alone the NL. I also think their bullpen looks pretty good. But I just wish they'd have picked up another bat. Since they didn't, I like the Dodgers. They have a good mix of young and veteran hitters, and both their starting rotation and relief corps look strong to me.
For the AL playoffs, the Red Sox and Angels get to the ALCS. And though Boston might have a better top two to their rotation, I think Anaheim has better depth if their staff is at full strength by the playoffs. And though the Red Sox always seem to beat the Angels in the postseason, I think that depth on both sides of the ball ultimately makes the difference.
In the NL, the same pitching that pushes the Braves to an NL East title will also carry them through the playoffs, and be just enough to overtake the Dodgers' offense in the NLCS.
So in the World Series, we'll have a clash of two teams with "A" on their hats, some east coast (sort of) versus west coast, and two fantastic managers matched up against each other. In the end, the Angels' stronger lineup will help them overtake the Braves' pitching for the championship.
Who wins the individual awards this season? Jump ahead!
Most Valuable Player
● AL: Evan Longoria
● NL: Chase Utley
Longoria arguably could've won the AL MVP last year. What is he capable of, now that the Rays won't be keeping him in the minors to cut into his major league service time, giving him a full season? Watch out.
In the NL, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins have already gotten their MVP awards for the Phillies. Isn't it time their best player joined them? Utley is the difference maker in the NL East against the Braves and Mets.
Cy Young Award
● AL: Jon Lester
● NL: Brandon Webb
Last year was Lester's breakout season. Where else can he go from there? How about being the best pitcher in the American League?
And doesn't Webb always finish in the top two of NL Cy Young Award voting? He's about due to win another one of these, especially if he helps the Diamondbacks overtake the Dodgers in the NL West.
Rookie of the Year
● AL: Ryan Perry
● NL: Jordan Schafer
Okay, here's my homer pick. Matt Wieters is the favorite, and starting the season in the minors shouldn't affect his chances. But are the Orioles going to compete in the AL East? The Tigers might fall short too, but Perry gives them something they didn't have last year and could be a big factor in the AL Central race.
Schafer was going to be my pick in the NL even before last night. Really. I'd love to pick our old friend, Detroit's former future superstar, Cameron Maybin, but the Braves are going to contend for a division title, and Schafer gives them a force on both sides of the ball they haven't had since Andruw Jones was
skinny in his prime.