The Monk lacks the time and wherewithal to do a full baseball preview this year, but honestly why bother? The fact is that if John Lackey is healthy, the AL has the five best teams in baseball and probably six of the top seven (Seattle Ems). Shoot, if the BluJs hit a lick, the AL will have seven of the top 8.
The AL is simply loaded. The RedSux have four to five quality starters even without Schilling, although for some reason the RedSax-leaning baseball press doesn't think it should question the ability of Lester and Buchholz to produce for a full season to the extent that it questions the ability of Hughes-Kennedy-Joba to do the job. And the RedStiffs have a healthy Ortiz . . . who was a monster last year despite a bum leg, and will have Ellsbury helping jumpstart the offense for the whole year.
The Yankees are getting misunderestimated. If the Tigers have pitching questions but a great offense, why does the baseball press seem to pick them over the Yanks even though the Yanks have three top young pitchers, a solid veteran, and the man who has more wins in the past two seasons than any pitcher in baseball, combined with a top tier closer, strengthened bullpen (Hawkins, Joba, and a revived Farnsworth after Torre's departure), reigning AL MVP and a potential 1000-run offense of their own? Explain that. If you think Dontrelle Willis is the pitching answer for Detroit, when that team has no Zumaya and potentially no Fernando Rodney holding down the late innings for the iffy Todd Jones, you're nuts.
The second/third best team is the Indians. They were second-best in the postseason when they reversed their failures against the Yanks, but third-best in the regular season. Either way, that's worth a playoff berth. The Indians' questionable 'pen will remain a weakness, especially if Raffy-righty pitches like he did against the Bosax (a convicted steroider, he must've been off the juice during the ALCS). But with Travis Hafner likely to improve after last year's semi-bonk, Cleveland is a potential 950-run offense too. The Indians are the boutique pick for the World Series this year but I don't love their rotation -- they have a top two and three mediocrities. They also have Joe Borowski as their closer again. Then again, with the Twins taking a drop, the Chisax and the Royals in their division, the Indians only have to beat the Tigers.
Then there are the Tigers, Angels and Ems. All together in a clump. Take the kitties' offense with the Ems' pitching and you get the best team in the AL. The Angels lost Escobar, but have Lackey, Weaver and Garland -- as good a top three as anyone in the league. And the Ems have added Erik Bedard, who may be the missing piece to get them past the Angels.
Some of the also rans are decent: the BluJs could win the NL Central by five games; the (D)Rays have tons of raw talent, especially with the bat; the Twins are young and have some solid players too despite losing Santana; and who knows what the A's can do -- if Harden is healthy (big, huge if), that team could have a solid top three (Harden, Blanton, Gaudin) that costs less than $3.1M/season combined.
So why worry too much about the NL? The Cubs will celebrate their 100th anniversary of championship-free baseball, cementing their status as the biggest sack of manure franchise in the history of American team sports; the bandbox ballpark teams will regress such that the Rox and Phils will not make the playoffs; the Mess will benefit from a decent 1-2 with Santana and Maine, plus 3-4 other guys whose shoulders are held together with tape and toothpicks; the DBacks will improve the most without improving their record much, if at all, thanks to the addition of Danny Haren (they were -20 in run differential but won 90 games so the runs for/against should improve); the Braves will improve their record and challenge for a playoff spot with a quatrogenerian-based rotation. And ultimately the NL champ will fall again to the AL champ in the World Series . . .
. . . Except Santana's presence means the Mess could actually win a game, unlike three of the past four NL pennant winners.
You want picks?
AL = Bahstin, Indians and Ems with Yanks (WC).
NL = Mess, Cubs (NL Central = other than the Pirates, who knows who'll win?), Dodgers, Snakes (WC).
My only guarantee -- these picks will suck less than at least 60% of the "experts".