Given that Opening Day is only a couple of weeks away, I thought I'd take a post to make my predictions for divisional and Wild Card winners for the upcoming season. If you are curious about my predictions from last season, you can find them here. Remember, these are only predictions. If you feel I am completely wrong about something, let me know what you think.
American League East: Boston Red Sox.
It's fairly hard to find anyone making pre-season predictions where they dont' feel the Red Sox will win their division. Given their line-up upgrades (Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez), bullpen upgrades (Dan Wheeler, Bobby Jenks) and an expected return to health, it's hard to foresee the Red Sox not winning the division, especially with the Yankees looking weaker than they have in recent years. Also of note is the fact that the Red Sox managed to win 89 games last year despite losing Pedroia in June for the entire season, Victor Martinez for a 6 weeks, Youkilis for 8 weeks, and so on. Even without the upgrades they made, the Red Sox would be a much improved team.
American League Central: Chicago White Sox
The White Sox really only made one major addition this offseason in the form of Adam Dunn. However, their fellow AL Central leaguers made even less progress. The White Sox, of all of the teams in the division, have the best balance between offense and pitching (which is what I based my prediction that the Rangers would win the AL West last season on). The Tigers line-up has been improved, but is still inferior to what the White Sox can put out there. The Twins made very few upgrades this season, and probably have a slightly better line-up than the White Sox, but their pitching has much less depth than the White Sox have. While it's true the White Sox have no true ace, every pitcher in their rotation is average or better -- something no other team in their division can claim to have.
American League West: Oakland Athletics
This division is the most difficult in the AL for me to predict. All three of the contending teams in this division (Athletics, Rangers, and Angels) all made some fairly large changes this offseason, and the number of changes made are sometimes hard to predict. However, I feel that the Athletics most effectively addressed their problems this off-season, and as a result will have a well-banced team capable of taking the division next year. Their additions of Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham, not to mention the potential that rookie slugger Chris Carter has, should give them a much-improved line-up. The Athletics have the best pitching staff in the AL West, and quite possibly in the American League, so that should not be an issue.
American League Wild Card: Tampa Bay Rays
While it's true the Rays lost two of their more productive hitters in Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, not to mention their closer in Rafael Soriano, I still believe the Rays are capable of winning 90+ games and winning the Wild Card. The Rays, despite having traded Matt Garza, have an excellent rotation with rookie Jeremy Hellickson likely to take Garza's spot in the rotation. Hellickson performed well last year, and it is difficult to doubt young Rays pitchers right now given how well every single one of them has performed in the major leagues. The Rays line-up will be severely diminished, but they have a fairly capable rookie in Desmond Jennings who will take Crawford's post. They also added Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, who should prove to be fairly productive in whatever role they are given. While a team like the Yankees clearly has a better line-up, a commmon adage is that "good pitching beats good hitting", and the Rays clearly have the Yankees beat in that respect.
National League East: Atlanta Braves
With the news that Chase Utley may be out for the entire season, the Braves seem to be the best team in the division. The Phillies may have a ridiculously stacked rotation, but their line-up has been severely depleted with the losses of Jayson Werth and Chase Utley. The left-handed heavy line-up will have a hard time winning consistently on top of having to rely on aging stars like Jimmy Rollins. This is not to say that the Phillies will not still be good, I just believe that the Braves will be able to be better this year with their upgraded line-up and always-good pitching staff.
National League Central: St. Louis Cardinals
In what is possibly Albert Pujols' last season on the Cardinals, I think the Cardinals should be able to take the division. The Brewers made some major upgrades, but recent injury news involving both star pitchers they added (Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum) makes me back off a little on predicting them to win their division. The Cardinals have their own injury problems in the starting rotation (Adam Wainwright), but they still have Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia as a solid one and two, and plenty of guys to take the ball behind them. The Brewers do not have that same luxury.
National League West: Colorado Rockies
Just as the West is hard to predict in the American League, it is equally difficult to predict in the National League due to the fact that many of the teams in many ways seem equally matched, with no clear dominant team. However, I feel over the course of a long season, the Colorado Rockies probably have the capacity to most consistently win. The emergence of Carlos Gonzalez last season, and a full season of Troy Tulowitzki (hopefully), both point towards a great line-up this season. Ubaldo Jimenez also showed what he could do last season, and while the starting rotation is very likely the wek point for this team, most of the other teams in their division also do not have overwhelming strength in this area, making their better line-up the determining factor.
National League Wild Card: Philadelphia Phillies.
I feel that, just as last season, the Phillies and Braves are quite possibly interchangable between the Wild Card and the NL East Title. However, as I stated above in my discussion of the Braves, I feel the Braves are the better team this year. However, given their dominant rotation, the Phillies seem likely to win the most games of all non-division winners this year.
Anyway, that's it for now.