Baseball season starts in a week. Wish me luck getting through these with the kid off school all week and other things on my plate, but I'm going to try.
The start of baseball is always a fun part of the year. You have the Final Four happening at the same time, and the Frozen Four is coming in the same week. Not only that, but it's the month for the EXCITING release of the NFL schedule, and the NFL Draft is getting closer.
With that, let's try to plow through previews of all the divisions. These will be quick reads, unlike the monsters I wrote back in 2006. So let's rock and roll.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
1. N.Y. Yankees
2. Tampa Bay
Best bet: The Yankees are the best team in this division, by any metric. They have some serious pitching, with C.C. Sabathia still leading the rotation. Bottom line is that you can hate them all you want -- and I don't have any love lost for them -- but they're the top dog. The one move that could blow up on them is letting Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon go from the outfield, while they were only able to bring in slightly overrated Curtis Granderson. While it's reasonable to expect Granderson will hit for some power, given Yankee Stadium's love for left-handed hitters, it's also not a ridiculous argument that he will end up not playing every day for the Yanks. In the end, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Javier Vasquez, and Phil Hughes are the big keys for New York. You know what you're getting out of Sabathia, but Vasquez is overrated (great numbers in a National League pitcher's park) and Burnett is up-and-down. Mariano Rivera will add more to his Hall of Fame credentials, as if he needs to. So will Jeter and ARod, but you expected that.
Toughest call: Honestly, picking Tampa over Boston was the hardest decision. Both teams have a good case for second place and the position of favorite in the American League Wild Card race. Tampa has a little more urgency, though, because they have some contracts coming due after the 2010 season, most notably outfielder Carl Crawford. They still are rich with prospects, but the window of opportunity -- for now -- could be on the verge of closing. The talent is there, thanks to Crawford, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena (walk year), and B.J. Upton. Pitching should be strong, too, thanks to James Shields, Matt Garza, and new closer Rafael Soriano. Boston is strong, too, but their offense isn't nearly as good as it looks. An aging David Ortiz could be an albatross in the middle of the order again, and Adrian Beltre was a risky signing for them. Mike Cameron won't play center field, so that could work out for Boston, but Cameron struggled to hit for average in the National League last year. Is he going to magically start doing that now that he's a year older?
The others: Toronto is likely to be brutal. The Roy Halladay trade didn't turn out very well for them, and while they should be able to hit a little, it's going to be nearly impossible for them to replace Halladay with what they have right now. Long-term, there is a future, because they have some talent in the system, but they're a couple years away from being a year or two away, and that's if things go well. Baltimore is a contender in a lesser division. Emerging youngsters on offense -- especially Adam Jones, Luke Scott, Matt Wieters, and Nolan Reimold -- are bolstered by a decent pitching staff. The addition of veteran Kevin Millwood should help them immensely in that area, as he'll anchor the rotation. Mike Gonzalez comes in from Atlanta, and the lefty should serve as the Orioles' closer.