Owens: With new acquisitions, look out for the AL (April 4)
Andrew Owens | Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Each year, when the confetti drops to mark the end of another college basketball season, it also means baseball is right around the corner. Along with the annual narrative of warm weather and a rapidly approaching summer are several new storylines unique to the 2012 season.
First off, an already dominant American League just became that much stronger during the off-season. The Angels and Tigers poached Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder from the Cardinals and Brewers, respectively, which, along with the retirement of St. Louis skipper Tony LaRussa, vastly decimates the National League Central.
There are six excellent clubs in the American League. At most, five of them will earn a berth in the postseason. The Tigers are most likely to make the postseason among the six because of their talent and the fact that they reside in baseball’s worst division. They won the AL Central by 15 games in 2011 and widened the gap during the winter by adding Fielder and journeyman reliever Octavio Dotel to the mix.
The Indians and Royals will be contenders in a year or two, but they’re just not ready yet. Other than adding Derek Lowe, the only excitement out of Cleveland this winter was the revelation that Fausto Carmona is not in fact Fausto Carmona, but Roberto Hernandez Heredia, a 31-year-old, not 28 as he had claimed.
Baseball’s most intriguing division became even more tantalizing with Boston’s dramatic September collapse that allowed rival Tampa Bay to reach the playoffs.
The Red Sox hired one of the best minds in the game, Bobby Valentine, to gain control of the clubhouse and erase the memories of beer and chicken.
The Yankees were quiet for most of the off-season before swapping Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda to bolster the pitching staff. In the midst of spring training, New York welcomed Andy Pettitte of the original ‘Core Four’ back to the pinstripes. Although Pineda is injured to start the season and Pettitte needs more training before he is game-ready, both should factor largely in a much-improved rotation.
The Rangers are the two-time defending American League champions and twice were a strike away from winning the organization’s first World Series in last year’s Fall Classic, only to watch the Cardinals send Pujols and LaRussa into the sunset with a championship to cap off their stints in St. Louis.
As strong as Texas is, the Angels committed to more than $300 million with the Pujols and C.J. Wilson contracts. Pujols is an aging star, but a star nonetheless and will provide an excellent 3-4 punch in the middle of the lineup with Kendrys Morales, a strength the Angels have typically lacked in past years.
The National League is the David to the American League’s Goliath, but then again, it’s the NL that has won two consecutive World Series.
The NL East should be extremely competitive, especially now that the Nationals and Marlins (in their shiny new ballpark) can be thrown into the mix. The Phillies are without a doubt the team to beat, but every club but the Mets has a chance.
In the AL, the Rays, Tigers and Rangers will win their respective divisions, with the Yankees and Angels earning wild card spots. In the NL, the Phillies, Brewers and Giants will win their divisions, with the Marlins and Diamondbacks getting their tickets punched with a wild card berth.
The Rangers will advance to the World Series with the most complete roster and the addition of Yu Darvish. The Giants will win the NLCS to form a 2010 Fall Classic rematch, only the third time will be the charm for Texas, as they finally finish the deal and bring home a championship.
Contact Andrew Owens at [email protected]
The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.