But definitely not stale.
AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim/The OC/somewhere in So. Cal.- Yes they lost Mark Teixeira and K-Rod (plus lifer Garret Anderson, but his production has been fading for year). They’ll be without three All-Star-caliber starting pitchers to start the season. No, Bobby Abreu won’t be all the protection Vlad Guerrero needs. But they’re still the strongest team in the division- unless John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and/or Kelvim Escorbar misses more time than expected. Oakland and Texas might have the lineups to contend, but they probably don’t have the pitching even now.
AL Central: Cleveland Indians- Really, you could make a case for any team in this division. And it might not take more than 90 wins to be in the playoffs because all of the teams have serious question marks. But the Tribe was a win away from the World Series in 2007; the main problems a year later were an off-year for the bullpen and the future of C.C. Sabathia (resolved, of course, by Cleveland trading him away). Cliff Lee might not have another other-worldly year, but the additions of Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood should help strengthen the lineup (which already had Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, among others) and closeout games, respectively. A decent campaign from Fausto Carmona, now a year removed from elbow surgery, could put them over the top- and in October too.
AL East: Tampa Bay Rays- You were expecting me to pick the Orioles or Blue Jays? But seriously, of the three powerhouses in this division, I’m not someone who thinks what Tampa did was a fluke in 2008. BJ Upton and Evan Longoria haven’t even hit their full potential. And while the extra innings from last season’s run may take their toll on some pitchers, the (re)introduction of David Price in a month or two could be a huge factor. Boston has a great rotation and a potentially formidable lineup, led by defending MVP Dustin Pedroia and possible MVP-of-the-future Kevin Youkilis, but age and health are question marks here. Can Mike Lowell and David Ortiz still play and post big numbers for a full season? Will they get anything from John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito, or Jason Varitek? For the Yankees, how will newly-added Sabathia, Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett fare in New York? What will they get from Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, and of course, A-Rod? Will Robinson Cano live up to the contract extension he got last year, and will the overall defense be significantly better than it was last year?
Wild Card- New York Yankees- Boston and at least one AL Central team will be in this race. But as long as the starting pitching lives up to its obvious potential and Mariano Rivera continues to an incredible ninth inning weapon, the Yankees should score enough runs on a consistent basis to make the playoffs. Whether they can make any noise in the playoffs is another matter, especially against Cleveland or Los Angeles, both of whom have shut down their bats in recent Division Series meetings en route to victory.
AL Champion- Angels over Yankees- My heart wants to believe that the Yankees finally have the right players in their lineup, and more importantly, on the mound. But something else inside is telling me that the Angels’ brand of fundamental baseball, led by too often unappreciated manager Mike Scioscia, might still be in their heads. Maybe it’s just the Angels’ aforementioned starting pitching.
World Series- Angels over Phillies
Hopefully some of these picks actually look smart at season’s end.