5. Baltimore Orioles: Its going to be a long year, if you’re a Baltimore fan. The O’s are a decently talented offensive team (J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Brian Roberts lead the O’s attack). But pitching wise, they really lack talent. This will be one of the worst pitching staffs in all of baseball. And to make things worse, the O’s play in baseball’s toughest division, the American League East. And take in the fact there are now four legit teams in this division, this will not be an easy summer for Baltimore. Look for the O’s to be in a lot of high scoring games, but they lose a majority of them because they have no pitching what so ever.
4. Toronto Blue Jays: It hurts to have to pick Toronto this low. They are a team on the up and coming in this division. They have some very good young hitters (Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia) and some good young pitchers (Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek). And don’t forget they also have the two time reigning home run king in Jose Bautista. The Jays set out this past offseason to improve the back end of their bullpen, and they did just that. They perhaps made the most underrated move of the offseason when they acquired Sergio Santos from the White Sox. Santos is coming off a terrific year for the Sox, earning 30 saves and getting 92 K in 63.1 IP. The Jays are going to give the teams above them a run for their money this year, but they will ultimately come up short because the teams above them are just so much more talented and have much more experience with playing meaningful September games.
3. New York Yankees: This was the one team we had the most trouble with placing. The Yanks come in as again a World Series favorite, after setting out to get some starting pitching this offseason. And they did just that, when they traded their top prospect C Jesus Montero to Seattle for the young fireballer Michael Pineda (Pineda though, will be starting the season on the DL with shoulder problems). Then throw in the fact Andy Pettite is making a comeback with the Yanks, and one would say this team should be a favorite to win the division. But a lot of their chances rest with their lineup and keeping future hall of famers Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez healthy and in the lineup. But both made trips to the DL last year, and if both were to go down at the same time this year the Yanks will be in trouble. It all just makes too much sense to pick the Yankees. We felt they were due for an off year, so the gut feeling here is that they will finish third and be contenders for the second Wild Card spot.
2. Boston Red Sox: The Sox had an epic collapse in 2011. Gone is manager Terry Francona and closer Jonathon Papelbon. To replace Francona, the Sox went with former Mets skipper Bobby Valentine, a more fiery clubhouse presence than Francona was. The Sox still have a good team in place, they just had to change a few parts during the winter. They still have a good pitching staff (Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Buchholtz) and a powerful lineup (Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury lead the Red Sox lineup). The Sox bullpen could pose a few question marks for Boston, but if they can get good starting pitching and hitting like they should, it shouldn’t be that big of a concern for Red Sox Nation. The Sox should come out fired up after last September’s dismal performance and make a push for a division title. But they will fall just short on that mark, but look for them to hold down a Wild Card spot come October.
1. Tampa Bay Rays: Last year, the Rays took advantage of the epic Red Sox collapse, to fight their way into the postseason. They come into 2012 looking good as ever while making a few changes to their squad during the winter. They first brought back Carlos Pena to add some power to their lineup while playing first base. They then brought in Jose Molina, who has been a good all around presence behind the plate the past few years for Toronto. So add those players to the Rays lineup (Led by 3B Evan Longoria) and keep in mind the Rays hold one of the best starting rotations (David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, and Wade Davis) in all of baseball, and you find yourself with one outstanding baseball team. Joe Maddon has been a genius as to how to get the most of his players, and this year will be no exception. He will get the most out of this team, and guide the Rays to a second AL East division championship in their history.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Look for the 2012 Minnesota Twins preview tomorrow followed by the AL Central preview on Tuesday.