ISKOE AMERICAN LEAGUE
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the focus is on the American League. Wednesday, the National League divisions will be previewed)
The American League East should be dominated by the three usual suspects — the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.
Toronto will be improved but has too much ground to make up on its three powerful foes. And Baltimore is still seeking a direction although manager Buck Showalter should continue to be a positive influence on the young talent.
Tampa Bay has an outstanding pitching rotation with young lefty Matt Moore poised to join a rotation that already includes David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson.
The Yankees made major moves in strengthening their rotation by acquiring Hiroki Kuroda from the Dodgers and trading for Michael Pineda from Seattle . The major concern for the Yankees is their aging lineup with stars Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter injury prone.
The leadership of the retired Jorge Posada will be greatly missed. And one must wonder if the amazing 42 year old right arm of closer Mariano Rivera will be able to function once again at the highest of levels.
The concern with Boston is similar with injuries to both Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis more frequent over the past couple of seasons. Expensive free agent Carl Crawford was a bust in 2011 and a nagging wrist injury will have him sidelined at the start of this season.
There are huge concerns after the top three starting pitchers and closer Jonathan Papelbon traveled down I-95 to join the Phillies. The Sox will be, if nothing else, entertaining to watch with volatile Bobby Valentine replacing the more sedate Terry Francona as manager.
The AL Central should belong to Detroit . The Tigers should be the first team to clinch a Division title, perhaps in early September. Ace Justin Verlander should be every bit as dominant this season as he was last and the addition of Prince Fielder bolsters an already potent lineup.
There should be a huge gap between the Tigers and the rest of the Division with both Cleveland and Kansas City capable of finishing second although neither is expected to challenge for a Wild Card. Chicago should drop off with the departure of manager Ozzie Guillen and ace Mark Buehrle both now in Miami .
Minnesota is a question mark as its success will hinge on the return to health of stars Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. If both are healthy and can play 140 or more games the Twins could finish as high as second. If not, the Twins might reprise last season in which they won an American League low 63 wins.
The AL West shapes up as a two team race between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the two time defending AL champion Texas Rangers. The edge goes solidly to the Angels who not only bolstered their offense with signing of Albert Pujols but also strengthened an already strong starting rotation with the addition of C J Wilson.
In Wilson the Angels’ gain was the Rangers’ loss as the lefty was 16-7 for Texas in 2011. Wilson joins a rotation that already features Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana to form a rotation that should compete with Tampa Bay as the best starting rotation in the American League.
Both Seattle and Oakland are in rebuilding modes with Seattle ’s prospects brighter if not just for the presence of 2010 Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez. The righty is just 25 years old and were he pitching elsewhere his stats would compare favorably with those of Weaver or Detroit ’s Verlander.
The American League Division winners are predicted to be Tampa Bay , Detroit and the L A Angels with the New York Yankees and Texas earning Wild Cards. The call is for the Yankees to win the one game Wild Card Playoff with the Rangers and advance to the ALDS. The prediction for the ALCS has the Angels defeating Tampa Bay and advancing to face Philadelphia in the 2012 World Series.
And the ultimate forecast is for Albert Pujols to be a member of back to back World Series champions as the Angels defeat the Phillies in six low scoring games to win the 2012 World Series ten seasons after capturing their first such Title.