In the other major professional sports leagues, (NFL, NBA, NHSC*) parity has been the word most used to describe the competition between its teams during the past 10 years.One could make an argument that over the past few seasons, the National League has joined the parity concept, with 2006 only featuring one team (Mets) that had over 90 wins. The one place where most of us thought it would never happen is in the American League. *NHSC stands for the National Hacky Sack Confederation
With no salary cap and having 2 teams with such a financial advantage over the rest, the American League was everything that was wrong with professional sports. Sure the Twins and A's have been competitive, despite much smaller budgets, but they weren't going to the World Series. It took the Cinderella seasons of the White Sox and Tigers to really chip away at this have and have-not concept. The next step would be for a number of teams to be competitive with the cash cows. Welcome to the brave new world which is the 2007 season.
Watch out for my bold prediction. Not only will no team in the AL win 95 games, only one will win over 90 (Red Sox). Every AL team this year has at least one major question mark + there are more good teams in the league than ever before = a lot of teams which will wind up somewhere between 80-89 wins. Only the Royals and Devil Rays have no chance to make the playoffs. Considering that the National League should have a simliar free-for-all and it's time to state that Major League Baseball is now the most balanced professional sports league.
1. Red Sox
4. Blue Jays
5. Devil Rays
The Red Sox are the best team in baseball, as long as Papelbon saves the bullpen like last season. Loved the addition of Lugo, as he and Youkilis will be get on base ahead of the best 3-4-5 in the game.
Sure the everyday lineup is stacked, but the pitching staff...well let me break it down like a real expert...yeeeesh. Pettitte has been the most overrated pitcher in baseball over the past 5 seasons. Mussina, Pavano, Wang...who knows if they will stay healthy. Phillip Hughes might be their best pitcher by July. Truthfully, it's a coin-flip between 2-4 in this division.
The Orioles I think will be the most improved team in baseball for 2007. The 3 young hurlers that front their staff will take another step forward this season (see 2006 Tigers), but they could really use a Kenny Rogers-type to help them take a bigger leap. The lineup is balanced between speed and power, with the outfield defense the best I can remember patrolling Camden. While they paid through the teeth for bullpen upgrades, considering the overbidding going on for pitching this off-season, it doesn't look that bad of an investment.
Baseball Prospectus has been doing a great feature titled "Hope and Faith" on each team. The Blue Jays I believe have the highest upside and downside in the majors. If Glaus and Thomas stay healthy they should score a lot of runs. I doubt there are many Blue Jays fans that could honestly believe that will happen. Who knows how Burnett will pitch. Looking at the below average staff, outside of Halladay, the Jays have to pray he will finally throw to his ability level. Hope and Faith, indeed.
The Devil Rays have become a trendy pick among the sabermetrical crowd to be the AL's biggest surprise. This thought-process reminds me of how the 2006 Brewers or this season's D-backs have been touted. While it's apparent that all 3 of these teams have some really exciting young talent, I still think they are at least a season away from being serious playoff contenders. Tampa will emulate the 2005-07 Indians, as their dismal bullpen will continue to blow leads the offensive put on the board. If they had 3 more Scott Kasmir's (I can't remember a trade that seemed more lop-sided than Kasmir for Zambrano actually ending up ever worse), the Rays would be a legit wild-card contender. Not this year.
1. White Sox
Honestly, I have no idea how this division will turn out. Last year I took the Indians, but their bullpen and defense killed them. Hard to see where they have improved much in these categories. Another Wedge-issue is their manager, who is far behind Leyland, Gardenhire, and Guillen. Sabathia has always reminded me some of Bartolo Colon, as I suspect his career will be one of a lot of highs and lows. Did I mention the bullpen and the manager?
The Tigers have the best balance, but I think they will face a lot of the same problems that the White Sox did, after winning the World Series. Their staff pitched a lot of stressful innings and I doubt any of them, besides Bonderman, will reach their 2006 performances. A healthy Carlos Guillen will keep them in the chase, but I think they will fall short.
How can you have 5 of the best players in your league and finish 4th? I'm not sure about that one, myself, but considering that after Santana there are 4 pretty big pitching question marks, I think this will cost the Twins the playoffs. Another question I have is how long can the Twins bullpen be so dominant? 3 seasons of near perfection might be a little too much to ask.
It should be mentioned that I have never picked the White Sox to finish 1st in the AL Central (so keep the homer comments to yourself). I am fully aware that they could post their first losing season this decade. Sure they were terrible in spring training. I know that PECOTA sees the starting pitching being one of the worst in baseball. My SWOBODA sees it differently, though. If Posednik gets hurt/benched like I suspect, their offensive lineup will score enough runs to win this division. The biggest question mark is closer Jenks, but the Sox have a lot more options than the Indians, if he can't do the job. .
I think all 4 teams will be in the hunt going into the final week. Final Win tally. White Sox 88. Indians 87. Tigers 86. Twins 85. Should be fun.
If Colon and Weaver bounce back from what could be injury-plagued seasons, the Angels will push past the 90 win mark and contend with the Red Sox. They potentially have the best staff in the game. The bullpen is not far behind.
Some are predicting doom for the A's, but I think their offense might be the most improved in the AL, while their defense and bullpen are top-notch. Obviously, starting pitching is a major issue, but I think they have enough to slide into the wild card spot.
The Rangers would be my choice to take one of the playoff spots, if they hadn't have made one of the worst trades of the past 10 years. (giving to the Padres Young and Gonzalez for practically nothing in return) Getting rid of Showalter will help, but not enough to make it into the post-season.
The Mariners are improved, but it's hard to see where they will be able to get over .500, considering the depth of talent in the AL. The Adrian Beltre signing will continue to haunt them.
Only the Royals have no chance of winning half their games in the AL. I'm predicting that only the Devil Rays and Mariners will join them under .500. The rest of the AL will beat up on the NL during inter-league games. Add to this that there is no great team in 2007 and I suspect this will be the most competitive pennant race since 1967. I like the Red Sox to beat the Angels and then beat the Braves in the World Series.
Here's your place to list your 2007 scenario. If you want to have the right to boast that you were right, like say a guy I know who chose in pre-season the Super Bowl champ and nailed the Final 4, including who would play in the championship, here is your place to do it.