MLB Preview: breaking down the AL

BoSox, Tigers will dominate; Jays and Tribe will fight for Wild Card

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Minnesoda Twins pitcher Johan Santana

SANTANA... WITHOUT THAT ANNOYING ROB THOMAS. While he may not be on par in terms of string-bending, the Twins Johan Santana is adept at fanning Major League hitters.

AL EAST
1. Boston Red Sox
2. Toronto Blue Jays
3. New York Yankees
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Thanks to some beefy offseason spending, the Red Sox should return to supremacy. They gambled on newcomer Daisuke Matsuzaka and will reap the rewards; he’s young, his stuff is electric, and no one has faced him before. Don’t expect a sophomore slump from Jonathan Papelbon, who recently returned to the closer role. The kid wants the ball when the pressure’s on. J.D. Drew and his eagle eye will bolster the middle of the lineup; toss in vampire/rat/human blend Julio Lugo and you have a scary squad in more ways than one.

Don’t discriminate against the Jays just because they pay goblin Gustavo Chacin to pitch. They were competitive last year despite some catastrophic pitching performances, and this year’s Megazord approach " throwing multiple mediocre arms together to create a more powerful force " could complement their potent offence, even if one of our dads replaces John Thomson. “If Frank Thomas stays healthy” sounds like “If Robert Downey Jr. stays sober,” but when he plays, the Big Hurt will jack taters and protect Vernon Wells beautifully.

Could the Yankees’ lineup get any better? Maybe the next step is digging up hall-of-famers’ carcasses and rebuilding them as slugging zombies. Still, New York lags in the arms race. 2006 major league wins leader Chien-Ming Wang is hurt; Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are aging fast; and Kei Igawa, though intriguing, is unproven. Expect more boo birds than normal at the Bronx Zoo this year.

The Orioles’ retooled bats would impress in any other division, but they’ll fade into mediocrity in the East. Nevertheless, watching Nick Markakis and Erik Bedard will be fun.

Let me spell it out for you, Tampa Bay: P-I-T-C-H-I-N-G. Without it, they’ll remain baseball’s nightmare team. Do they expect Scott Kazmir to pitch every night?

AL CENTRAL
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Cleveland Indians
3. Minnesota Twins
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Kansas City Royals

Gary Sheffield may be the one piece the Tigers need for the AL pennant. They’re loaded with powerful young arms, and trashy Kenny Rogers will cheat them out of jams all year. Joel Zumaya may be the first hurler to rival that ridiculous guy you created for your stacked roster on EA Sports MVP Baseball. Watch him hit 101, 102 and 103 miles per hour on the radar gun all year and steal the closing job from Todd Jones.

Slugger Travis Hafner is more underrated than Sportscentre’s Holly Horton. He could lead Cleveland to a Wild Card berth, especially with youngsters Josh Barfield and Jeremy Sowers arriving on the scene. The Tribe needs bounce-back years from starting pitchers Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook, however, to truly contend.

Francisco Liriano’s injury will cripple the Twins this season. Johan Santana and Justin Morneau will shine again, but any team starting Nick Punto on purpose can’t finish above .500.

The White Sox’s sudden lack of depth will sink them. Amazingly, Darin Erstad isn’t dead; he’s patrolling U.S. Cellular’s outfield. Little do the Pale Hose realize, he sucks at that “baseball” thing. As does Jon Garland, thanks to shoulder troubles. And Juan Uribe. And Brian Anderson. See the trend?

The Kansas City Royals belong in some vulgar Billy Bob Thornton movie. At least they have the game’s top prospect in Alex Gordon.

AL WEST
1. Oakland Athletics
2. Los Angeles Angels
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Texas Rangers

The AL West is like a race between four fat people " no one deserves to win, but somebody has to.

The Athletics have the pitching depth and offensive pop to eke out a division crown, but only if the health gods smile upon them. Their hidden gem: Mike Piazza. The Pizza Man finally realized he throws like a 42-year-old woman and took a DH job. He’ll mash.

The Angels will hang around with their usual stellar pitching, but their offence is impotent, especially with Gary Matthews Jr.’s syringes flushed down the toilet. Give them a few years; Howie Kenrick and Brandon Wood will join Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana as household names.

Seattle looks good on paper but never pulls it together, partially because it adopts Dancing With the Stars’ strategy of plucking former standouts from the gutter. See: Jose Guillen, Jose Vidro. Crazy Carl Everett will be missed this year, albeit not for baseball skills; anyone who doesn’t believe in dinosaurs is worth keeping for entertainment alone.

The Texas Rangers are hopeless; Sammy Sosa is just a publicity stunt to attract more mullets, guns and inbreds to the park.

AL Pennant: Detroit Tigers
MVP: Travis Hafner, Indians
Cy Young: Johan Santana, Twins
Rookie of the Year: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox

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