Welcome to the American League, or “Baseball’s Superfriends.” Yes, the AL has been the dominant league for the past decade or so, and there’s a simple reason: Offense. Six of the top-eight offenses were AL offenses, while only the cellar dwellers in the AL Central were in the bottom-10 of the league.
That trend will likely continue in 2008, especially with faces such as Miguel Cabrera’s in AL parks.
We’ll start there. A lot of people are picking the Tigers to win the division, but balance is the key. Pitching overcomes all in the very end, and the Indians have the horses.
1. Cleveland Indians
Winning the AL Central was no small feat for the Indians. 2006 was a horrible year, but the Tribe stayed intact and rebounded tremendously to an ALCS bid. Their offense is solid, starting with Grady Sizemore. A bounce-back year for Travis Hafner should couple with big-hitting Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko for big numbers. The bench, however, is thin. But pitching is no concern: CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona make up the AL’s best 1-2 punch, and the back end is good enough to win in the AL. The bullpen has plenty of options, including lights out setup man Rafael Betancourt. This well-rounded, younger team will trump the Tigers by a hair for the division crown.
Predicted Finish: 94-68
2. Detroit Tigers
After missing out on the playoffs in 2007, the Tigers are gambling on the present. They grabbed Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis in a trade with the Marlins, while also nabbing run-scoring machine Edgar Renteria from Atlanta. These additions will boost an offense that was already third in the majors in 2007. Their pitching staff is cloudy, especially with a bullpen that has injured pieces (Joel Zumaya) and uncertain setup men (Jason Grilli, Bobby Seay) behind a shaky closer (Todd Jones). The offense will win the Tigers a bunch of games, and in the AL, the pitching should be OK enough to walk Motown back to the playoffs.
Predicted Finish: 92-70
3. Minnesota Twins
Losing Johan Santana means the Twins are in full rebuilding mode. But they’ve been rebuilding for a year already, so look for improvements. Delmon Young is a huge talent and will contribute immediately in a lineup with the scary Justin Morneau and steady Joe Mauer. The pitching staff is full of question marks, but nothing horrendous. Boof Bonser is a strikeout machine; Scott Baker could be a top-30 pitcher; Livan Hernandez has always been a good third or fourth option. Francisco Liriano’s return will be huge. Division-best bullpen is led by Joe Nathan and backed by the great Pat Neshek. A game or two over .500 is what the doctor will order.
Predicted Finish: 83-79
4. Chicago White Sox
2007 was a year the White Sox and their fans wanted to forget. A bad, home run happy offense brought this team to a 72-90 clip. They’re not that bad, but they’re not good. The offense may not hit for average, but they’ll win some games. Nick Swisher, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome are the boppers. A pitching staff led by the two-faced Mark Buehrle and Javier Vazquez isn’t great, so they’ll need surprise contributions from former Phillie Gavin Floyd in the fifth spot. A par bullpen is led by the always tough Bobby Jenks. They’re old in the bullpen, which could cost them. Their best bet is .500; more likely, they’re a few games behind.
Predicted Finish: 78-84
5. Kansas City Royals
Perennial cellar dwellers have done nothing to climb out of it in 2008. The good, young offense is still a year from being competitive, but Billy Butler and Alex Gordon are close. Underwhelming Jose Guillen is the cleanup guy in a below-average order. Gil Meche is an average ace pitcher, and Zack Greinke should be effective, but nothing really seems to be good here. Joakim Soria is a closer who won’t get too many chances to get saves, but he’ll be effective. They’re a year away, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they finished close to .500.
Predicted Finish: 76-86