Opening Day — where hope is in the air, even for the Toronto Blue Jays. Well, at least for a week or so until we close the book on any hopes of making this year interesting. I’m not betting on any 27-14 starts this season, so this may be the closest we get to hanging with the AL East bad boys in 2010. Enjoy it while it lasts, Jays fans. Now, my American League forecast:
1. New York (98-64): Yeah, yeah, yeah. They’re really good, and I hate that with every bone in my body. Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez join a Yankees team that lost very little (sorry Hideki) from last year’s championship squad.
2. Boston (94-68): Added John Lackey to an already-strong rotation, plus a full year of Victor Martinez adds to an already-potent lineup, even with David Ortiz sans steroids clogging up the middle. I get the feeling Adrian Beltre is gonna love hitting at Fenway, too.
3. Tampa Bay (87-75): Behind James Shields and Matt Garza, the young trio of Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis (62 career starts combined) will go a long way in determining just how tough the Rays can hang with the Yankees and Red Sox in 2010. If get into the playoffs, Evan Longoria has a shot at MVP.
4. Toronto (70-92): Oh well, at least we know what we’re getting into. With a nice young core to build around, the time was right to deal Roy Halladay. Now, if only someone would come and take Vernon Well’s contract off our hands too. Kenny Williams, you still there?
5. Baltimore (69-93): Almost everyone has 2010 as the year Baltimore sneaks out of last, but I’ll believe it when I see it. They have a nice young roster that could prove me wrong, though — Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Brian Matusz have the Orioles looking like a team that could finish fourth in the division for years to come.
1. Minnesota (88-74): Just think how much better the Twins could be if they hadn’t completely dropped the ball on the Johan Santana (for Carlos Gomez & co.) and Matt Garza (for Delmon Young) deals a couple years ago. Still, having Joe Mauer and playing in the weakest division in the American League is likely enough to punch a ticket to the playoffs (where they’ll subsequently be swept).
2. Chicago (83-79): If Jake Peavy stays healthy, he’ll be the ace of one of baseball’s best starting fives. Even with Peavy in form, Chicago needs bounce-back years from Carlos Quentin and Alex Rios and continued development from Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham to make some noise.
3. Detroit (81-81): Remember last year, when the Tigers blew a huge lead in the final month and Miguel Cabrera decided to drink it off with the season on the line on the final weekend? Yeah, that was funny. Detroit added Johnny Damon, but he’ll soon find Comerica Park isn’t quite the funhouse Yankee Stadium is for left-handed batters. Cabrera and Justin Verlander might keep the Tigers in the hunt, but I’m not betting on them getting to the postseason.
4. Kansas City (67-95): The Royals chose Alex Gordon second overall in 2005 and Luke Hochevar first in 2006. See why they’re still this bad. Oh yeah, and their three biggest free agent signings the past few years have been Jose Guillen, Gil Meche and Jason Kendall. Zack Greinke is the only thing keeping this team from losing 180 games.
5. Cleveland (65-97): Hard to believe the Indians were a win away from getting to the World Series less than three years ago. Grady Sizemore might bounce back in 2010, but that doesn’t change the fact Cleveland is in even worse shape than the Royals.
1. Seattle (92-70): My sleeper for 2010. Sure, the usual questions surround Erik Bedard’s health, but King Felix and Cliff Lee give the Mariners the majors’ best one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Meanwhile, Ichiro and Chone Figgins are set to drive opposing teams crazy on the basepaths and Milton Bradley is set to flat-out mash now that he’s back in the AL West.
2. Los Angeles (87-75): Losing John Lackey hurts their starting rotation. Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir have all proven capable of either winning 15 games or having ERAs over 5.00, so who knows what to expect? Still, a well-rounded lineup should keep the Angels at least in the mix.
3. Texas (86-76): If Rich Harden’s arm doesn’t fall off again, the Rangers could push for the division. As usual, they mash with the best, provided Josh Hamilton bounces back after a disastrous 2009 (here’s guessing he does).
4. Oakland (67-95): The A’s were already bad, and they’ll be even worse now that the West had morphed into one of baseball’s best divisions. Not much to look forward to in 2010 at all in Oakland, besides Jack Cust potentially breaking the single-season strikeout record.
And now, the hardware:
MVP: Joe Mauer, Minnesota
Cy Young: Felix Martinez, Seattle
Rookie of the Year: Austin Jackson, Detroit
Manager of the Year: Don Wakamatsu, Seattle