With MLB season looming, looks at the division races

{eot} Staff
3/14/2009 12:02:55 AM
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After an interesting offseason that saw many free agents take a lot less money than they had planned - and the Toronto Blue Jays being the only club to not sign a free agent to a major-league deal - the 2009 Major League Baseball season is just over three weeks away.

For the Blue Jays, the 2009 season doesn't open up with the same promise that they had in 2008.

Their pitching staff - which led the entire league in ERA last season - will take a definite hit this year.

Dustin McGowan is out until at least May, but a later return is almost certain at this point.  Another promising youngster, Shaun Marcum, will miss the entire 2009 season after having Tommy John surgery.

But the biggest blow to the pitching staff was the defection of A.J. Burnett, who won 18 games last season. Burnett opted out of the final two years in his contract to sign a five-year deal with the New York Yankees that will pay him a whopping $18.5 million per season.

Without three key starters, the starting rotation will be unproven behind ace Roy Halladay and hurler Jesse Litsch. And as always, the American League East looks to be the toughest division in the game with the high spending Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the 2008 Cinderella Story - the Tampa Bay Rays.

While the Jays' prospects of making the postseason don't look good, there are other divisions that will be down to the wire.

Like last season, the National League East and American League Central should come down to the last few weeks in September. And by contrast, the National League West looks to be the weakest division for the third year in a row.

Listed below are division previews for both the American and National Leagues.  The team listed first is our pick to win the division and the team with an asterisk is's choice for the wild card.

For a list of notable signings, projected lineups, rotations and bullpens for each division, just click on the division name.

American League East:

1. Tampa Bay Rays: The addition of Pat Burrell and the positive experience from last season should only help the young Rays hitters.  Even if David Price starts the season in the minors to keep his innings down, the Rays are deep with four really good starters.

2. *Boston Red Sox: While the health of Mike Lowell, David Ortiz and the oft-injured J.D. Drew will be much talked about, the Red Sox starting pitching and bullpen is deeper than the Yankees.

3. New York Yankees: After trying a youth movement in their starting rotation in 2008, New York did an about face and signed CC Sabathia and Burnett to huge deals.  A-Rod's injury, the age of their hitters and a bad defence slot the Bombers in third.

4. Toronto Blue Jays: The Jays pitching staff won't be as good as it was in 2008, but the offence shouldn't be nearly as bad. Alex Rios seems to have thrived under Cito Gaston, and Lyle Overbay should be fully healed from his wrist injury.

5. Baltimore Orioles: The O's have finally rebuilt their farm system - thanks in large part to the trading of Erik Bedard last season.  Nick Markakis is a legitimate middle-of-the -order hitter, and the best prospect in baseball - catcher Matt Wieters - will join the team in the summer at the latest.

American League Central:

1. Minnesota Twins: After losing a one-game playoff to the White Sox last season, the Twins are the slight favourites this year. A full healthy season from Francisco Liriano and the continued development of Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey make it possible.

2. Chicago White Sox: General Manger Ken Williams wanted a younger and quicker team and because of that, the Sox will feature new players at centre field, second base and third base.

3. Cleveland Indians: The club was taken out in 2008 by injuries to Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner, who both hit in the middle of their order.  Cliff Lee had a Cy Young-winning season, but he's unlikely to repeat his monster season and the pitching staff around him isn't quite ready.

4. Detroit Tigers: The Tigers offence will be all right, but all their questions remain on the mound with Jeremy Bonderman still not healthy and Dontrelle Willis still struggling.  Brandon Lyon will close, but he's lost that job before, so even that might change.

5. Kansas City Royals: After years of being in baseball's wilderness, the team finally looks like they're clawing back.  They have a great young closer in Joakim Soria and a promising arm in Zach Greinke. 

American League West:

1. Los Angeles Angels: Despite the loss of Ervin Santana to start the season, their pitching staff looks deep enough to withstand the loss. Bobby Abreu won't be a lateral replacement for Mark Teixeira, but the Angels' offence should as always do enough to clinch.

2. Oakland Athletics:  GM Billy Beane made a bold move in the offseason by trading for Rockies slugger Matt Holliday.  The A's also added Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera to help their offence, but their pitching staff, while good, is still a year or so away.

3. Texas Rangers:  It's the same old story for the Rangers, where Josh Hamilton will lead a scary offence, but the starting pitching won't be there this year.  Top prospect Elvis Andrus has displaced Gold Glove winner Michael Young, who is shifting from shortstop to third base.

4. Seattle Mariners: After falling hard in 2008, the Mariners are trying to pick themselves up.  Brandon Morrow should thrive in the starting rotation alongside Felix Hernandez.  Even if Erik Bedard is healthy, the M's don't have enough hitting yet to compete.

National League East:

1. Philadelphia Phillies: It's a toss up between the Phillies and the Mets for the division, but the experience of winning it all, along with the Mets previous September collapses gives them the edge.

2. *New York Mets: The Mets have solved their bullpen issues from 2008, bringing in two of the American League's best closers in Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz to lock down the ninth and eighth innings respectively.

3. Atlanta Braves: After years of being the class of the division, the Braves are trying to make a push with the signings of Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez, but their offence isn't as good as the elite teams in the division.

4. Florida Marlins: The Marlins are experts at tearing down and rebuilding their team, and they're clearly on an upswing with their impressive young arms.  They'll make a push, but don't have the experience to win the division yet.

5. Washington Nationals: While the Nationals got better in the offseason with the addition of Adam Dunn, like the Royals there improvement won't be reflected substantially in the standings.

National League Central:

1. Chicago Cubs: After spending over $300 million in the offseason in 2008, the team was relatively quite aside from signing Milton Bradley.  They have the best pitching in the division, and Carlos Marmol should thrive as the closer.

2. St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols is the best hitter on the planet and Dave Duncan could very well be the best pitching coach, which always gives the Cardinals a chance.  They just don't have enough to catch the Cubs.

3. Milwaukee Brewers: After edging out the Mets for the Wild Card last season, the Brewers lost both CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets in the offseason.  They will have a great offence, but are unproven on the mound.

4. Houston Astros: The bad economy led them to letting Ty Wigginton go, and not really push hard for Mark Loretta or Randy Wolf.  Their starting pitchers behind Roy Oswalt all have injury question marks.

5. Cincinnati Reds: The Reds are on the right track with young hitters Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, but they'll lack the offence needed to compete this season.  Their starting pitching should be good though.  This is an experience year for the youngsters.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates: Lost in another sub-.500 season is the fact that the Bucs have players like Ryan Doumit and Nate McLouth that are worth seeing.  Their pitching staff has promise, but they're still a few years away.

National League West:

1. Los Angeles Dodgers: Every team in the division has holes, but the Dodgers have the best offence which should solve some their depth issues on the mound.  If John Broxton struggles as the closer, there's no firm solution behind him.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks: The addition of Jon Garland gives them another innings eater who can help prevent their bullpen from being exposed.  Their offence should be decent, but they have a lot of free swingers outside of Conor Jackson.

3. San Francisco Giants: In the postseason the trend is that good pitching always beats a good offence.  The Giants will see if that works in the regular season as well.  While they have some bats with promise, the Giants don't feature a single hitter who really scares pitchers.

4. Colorado Rockies: After playing in the 2007 World Series, the Rockies fell hard in 2008.  Without Matt Holliday, the offence should be worse, but still serviceable.  Health of their hitters will by key.  The loss of Jeff Francis for the season really hurts them.

5. San Diego Padres: Forced to slash payroll because of the owner's divorce, the Padres look to be the worst team in the Majors entering the season. Ace Jake Peavy will likely get dealt during the year to make matters worse.

AJ Burnett (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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2009 MLB Preview

Check the Preview often for line-up changes and our seventh annual AL and NL Youth watch. Also, Scott Cullen's Fantasy Player Rankings will be released soon. More...

2008 AL East Standings

Team Record GB
Tampa Bay 97-65 -
*Boston 95-67 2
New York 89-73 8
Toronto 86-76 11
Baltimore 68-93 28.5

2008 AL Central Standings

Team Record GB
Chicago 89-74 -
Minnesota 88-75 1.0
Cleveland 81-81 7.5
Kansas City 75-87 13.5
Detroit 74-88 14.5

2008 AL West Standings

Team Record GB
Los Angeles 100-62 -
Texas 79-83 21
Oakland 75-86 24.5
Seattle 61-101 39

2008 NL East Standings

Team Record GB
Philadelphia 92-70 -
New York 89-73 3.0
Florida 84-77 7.5
Atlanta 72-90 20
Washington 59-102 32.5

2008 NL Central Standings

Team Record GB
Chicago 97-64 -
Milwaukee 90-72 7.5
Houston 86-75 11
St. Louis 86-76 11.5
Cincinnati 74-88 23.5
Kansas City 67-95 30.5

2008 NL West Standings

Team Record GB
Los Angeles 84-78 -
Arizona 82-80 2.0
Colorado 74-88 10
San Francisco 72-90 12
San Diego 63-99 21

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