The Monk is down on his Yankees. I've been down on them since before the start of the season, and the first week means little to me other than indicating Torre will again use his bullpen so much that the boys will be rag-arm tired by the end of the year. What the Yanks need are YOUNG POWER ARMS. What they are trying to develop at AAA this year are young power arms and smart young pitchers: Hughes, Sanchez (the power); Clippard, Ohlendorf (the smarts). And the Yanks have those types of pitchers in their system, finally (see Chamberlain, Kennedy at Tampa). But that means little when those players are just too new.
The Monk will make an obligatory homer pick and take the Yanks to win the AL East. This comes mainly because Wang, Pettitte and Moooooooooooooose should be as good a top three in the rotation as any team has, including the Red Sawx (Josh Beckett's stint against the Royals is not yet a harbinger of the future). Who knows what Igawa, Pavano and _____ will offer -- count on little and disappointment is minimal (and the relevant comparison for Igawa is Ted Lilly, who the Yanks wanted, not Dice-K). The fact remains that the Yanks can hit, will hit, and will hit some more, have a vastly better bullpen modeled on the '02 Angels (power, power, power with Vizcaino, Proctor, Bruney, Farnsworth and Mo) and actually have options out of Columbus if the starters falter. Overall, however, this is not a World Series winner to me.
Best of the rest: The RedSawx play for Matsuzaka will prove inspired for at least a couple of seasons. The question will become, what happens after 2-3 years? The shelf life for even the best Japanese starters in the Majors has been about 2-3 years, tops. That said, with Dice-K, Beckett, Schilling, Wakefield and Lester, the Sawx have good starting pitching. The addition of JD Drew should add about 40 runs to the uninspired 820 the Sawx rolled up last year. But the trouble begins if the pitchers only go 6 solid innings, not 7 good ones because the set-up staff stinks. The Blue Jays have a chance if Halliday stays healthy because they can hit and the rotation is not poor (Halliday, Chacin, Burnett, Zambrano). The Orioles shored up their bullpen and have two top-end players who are one year wiser (Bedard, Markakis), but they're not more than an 85-win team and 85 wins means little in the AL pennant chase.
No hope here . . . Tampa, although there are some exciting players. But who cares?
The AL Central is a mess like the NL Central. But in the AL Central, there are many good teams, not merely a panoply of mediocrity. The winner should be the White Sox because they have five serviceable starters: Contreras, Vazquez, Garland, Buerhle and Danks (the prize of the Brandon McCarthy trade with Texas). The Palehos also have power throughout the lineup like the Tigers, but are better disciplined. The Tigers have lost their ace for about 60% of the season, the Twins have not adequately replaced Radke, the Indians simply have questions.
Best of the rest: The Tigers, Indians and Twins may be functionally indistinguishable but I give the kitties the edge. I think the Indians are misplacing their hopes if they rely upon Joe Borowski to reverse the bullpen failures that killed them last year, although they certainly have the most pop and the most dangerous lineup of the group. The Tigers still have three solid starters (Robertson, Verlander, Bonderman), even without Rogers, and a power 'pen whose least intimidating member is the steady Todd Jones. The Twins have the reigning MVP (yeah, really -- Morneau beat Jeter last year . . . no, I cannot explain it . . . I agree, it makes no sense), the top hitter in the league and the best pitcher. Nice start every five days, but whom can the Twinkies count on other than Santana?
All over on opening day . . . for the Royals. It's just true, even though they stink less than last year.
In the AL West, everyone and his brother picks the Angels, and I'm thinking the only reason why is questions about Rich Harden's health. Because if there existed ANY assurance that Harden would be healthy all year, the A's would be an easy pick. Why? Because a fully healthy Harden would essentially replace Zito, Danny Haren, Joe Blanton and Joe Kennedy are all likely to improve, the team is otherwise basically intact from last year's division winners, and the Angels have lost Bartolo Colon for probably two months or more. But the Angels have made two upgrades: defensively with Gary Matthews, Jr. and offensively with Howie Kendrick; that should put them on top.
Best of the rest: the Rangers can hit and actually have decent pitching (McCarthy, Loe, Padilla, Millwood) but the hot Texas summer and the wear it causes the players means this is probably just another 85-win team in the AL.
Forget it: the Mariners are the best last-place team in baseball and could actually finish over .500. But the other three have more talent.