Spring is here, and opening day of the MLB season is just a few days away. With the condensed edition with just the division winners and the the two Wild Card teams, but to see full division predictions with every team, click here.
AL East Champs – New York Yankees:
New York looked to improve their starting rotation, so they went out and re-acquired SP Javier Vazquez, who was with the team from 2004-2006, from Atlanta. Vazquez had a career year a season ago, and he will slide into a rotation that already includes CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett. The bullpen looks good once again for the Yankees. RP Joba Chamberlain moves back to the bullpen, where he thrived a couple of seasons ago, to presumably serve as the setup man one again for the greatest closer ever, Mariano Rivera. But the strength for New York is still their potent lineup. The Bronx Bombers still have legendary SS Derek Jeter along with the great 1-2 punch of 1B Mark Teixeira and 3B Alex Rodriguez in the middle of the order. The Yankees also added the power and speed of CF Curtis Granderson to their lineup along with the on-base machine DH Nick Johnson. The defending champs look strong enough to claim another AL East title and contend for their second World Series crown in as many years.
AL Central Champs – Chicago White Sox:
SP Jake Peavy, 2B Gordon Beckham and LF Carlos Quentin will bring these guys the 2010 division title. There is some nasty hitting here that got hamstrung by injuries in 2009, but with a healthy squad, look for them to compete and take the title in a weak division. Mark Buehrle will be another strong arm in the rotation, with a .582 career win percentage and 200-IP average. John Danks turned in another 200 IP and 13 wins last year, while Gavin Floyd was just short of 200 IP in an 11-11 season. While Bobby Jenks’ save totals have dropped in the last few seasons, the offense getting to the 9th inning will hopefully make his life a little easier. In a division without Joe Nathan for a year, and a team with home run threats like Paul Konerko and Quentin, look for the White Sox to take the Central.
AL West Champs – Los Angeles Angels:
The Angels possess a very solid lineup with the likes of CF Torii Hunter, RF Bobby Abreu, and the fresh breakout season of 1B Kendry Morales. Hunter is also a nine-time Gold Glove winner, having won the award the last nine seasons in the outfield. Abreu may be getting older, but he still hit almost .300 last year and stole 30 bases. The Angels made a few great offseason moves in signing former Yankee DH Hideki Matsui and acquiring pitchers Joel Piñeiro and Fernando Rodney. They boast one of the deepest starting pitching rotations led by Jered Weaver, with five pitchers who are completely capable of winning 15 games. With the acquisition of Rodney, who closed for the Detroit Tigers last year, the Angels provide a fantastic setup man for closer Brian Fuentes and have an alternative option should Fuentes struggle.
NL East Champs – Philadelphia Phillies:
This year brings high expectations for many teams in the NL East but none higher than for the Phillies. Fresh off a very active offseason in which they acquired the perennial Cy Young candidate, Roy Halladay, anything short than a trip to the World Series would be a disappointment for Phillies fans. The Phillies’ strength is their powerhouse lineup, with sluggers like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jayson Werth lurking in the middle of the order. Their rotation should be very strong, as the addition of Halladay is a huge boost to a rotation that already touted a World Series MVP in SP Cole Hamels. The back end of the bullpen is where Philadelphia needs consistency. After closer Brad Lidge had one of the best seasons of his career two seasons ago, this past year saw a different pitcher as Lidge was incredibly inconsistent. Young RP Ryan Madson is the closer-in-waiting should Lidge struggle again, but the 9th inning looks as though it could be a rollercoaster ride again for Phillies fans. Despite that weakness, Philadelphia is simply too talented everywhere else not to win the NL East.
NL Central Champs – St. Louis Cardinals:
2009 saw the Cardinals hit .263 as a team, which ranked 4th best in the NL and 12th in all of baseball. Having re-signed slugging outfielder Matt Holliday in the offseason to help protect star 1B Albert Pujols, the lineup looks formidable once again. Their starting pitching should also be a strength once again. The Cardinals had a team ERA of 3.66 a season ago, which was fourth best in the majors. The top of their rotation has Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Adam Lohse, which is arguably the best 1-2-3 in baseball. With RP Ryan Franklin back in the closer role after snagging his first career all-star selection in 2009, the bullpen looks secure as well. The Cardinals have all the tools to make a deep playoff run in 2010.
NL West Champs – Colorado Rockies:
Colorado is one of the up-and-coming teams in the majors. The Rockies have a strong lineup that touts a young superstar in SS Troy Tulowitzki, a speedster at the top of the order in CF Dexter Fowler, and the experience of veteran 1B Todd Helton. The pitching staff is much better than one would expect, as the humidifier has allowed good pitchers to perform just fine in Coors Field. SP Ubaldo Jimenez is a legitimate No. 1 starter and Aaron Cook and Jorge De La Rosa are decent middle-of-the-rotation guys. The bullpen looked very strong heading into the season, but then it was announced that closer Huston Street is likely to start the season on the DL with a shoulder injury. Despite that, the Rockies should be able to weather the storm without Street, and their powerful lineup will single handedly win them games. A talented Dodgers team will contend in the NL West as well, but it can’t be overlooked that Colorado was 74-42 once manager Jim Tracy took over last season. With Tracy in tow for the entire year in 2010 and with Jimenez and Tulowitzki having another year of development under their belts, the Rockies are the team to beat in the NL West.
AL Wild Card – Boston Red Sox:
Talks of their offensive decline are vastly exaggerated, as the Red Sox still have a formidable 3-4 duo in C Victor Martinez and 1B Kevin Youkalis. However, great starting pitching is Boston’s forte. Their rotation has three studs in Josh Becket, Jon Lester and John Lackey, and that trio gives Boston a chance to make a run in the postseason.
NL Wild Card – Los Angeles Dodgers:
They have a very strong lineup with rising star CF Matt Kemp and future Hall of Fame LF Manny Ramirez being the main cogs. Talented SP Clayton Kershaw could take the next step this year and become a superstar, which would certainly help the Dodgers chances. But it’s their hitting that will make them a dangerous team in the playoffs.
Zach Moretti, Nick Nelson, Jonathan Wigginton, and Daniel Piccolo contributed to this story.