Sorry about the delay; we have a guest coming over tomorrow so a clean-up was in order. Here is the rest of the list:
5) The Royals and the Rays: When most fans think about these teams, their first thought is futility. These franchises have embodied the concept for the last several seasons. However, there is breakout potential for both. The Rays may finally get some pitching to go with a surprisingly potent offense that will only improve with the addition of Evan Longoria if Kazmir and Shields continue to make strides, Garza becomes a suitable #3, and Price, McGee, et al. fulfill at least some of their potential. Their bullpen only has to be better with Wheeler and Percival so we'll be spared the brutality of Shawn Camp, Chad Orvella, etc. With the Orioles rebuilding and the Blue Jays potentially overrated (and as last year showed, brittle), the Rays should avoid the basement and might even place third! Crazy what a difference a year can make (and #1 picks help).
As for the Royals, they were a better team than the White Sox last year (just check the run differentials) and not much worse than the Twins. With the White Sox trading away the farm for Nick Swisher and still not addressing a horrible lack of pitching depth (along with a sub-par infield), the Royals have an opening, especially now that the Twins are officially in rebuilding mode. Teahen and DeJesus should bounce back, Billy Butler should mash, and Alex Gordon should build on a good second half to display his prodigious abilities. I actually like the potential in their rotation, particularly if Zack Greinke stops battling his boogeymen and focuses on the guy in the batter's box. Sure, that bullpen may have less name recognition than third Manning brother but at least they're not running Juan Uribe out there every day.
4) The NL West: My girlfriend, a Padres fan, thinks that this should rank higher but I like it right here. Why? Because it's a division in which four teams have a legitimate chance to win the division (everyone except the Giants). The Diamondbacks, who won the division last year, actually had a worse run differential than the other three contenders. The addition of Dan Haren should help but by how much? The Rockies had a miracle run last year but can they repeat it? The Padres have a great pitching staff but collapsed down the stretch last year. Can they hit enough to take advantage of their pitching advantage? Lastly, the Dodgers have a great core of young players. Will Joe "I like older men" Torre give the kids enough chances to succeed or will he plague us all with more Juan "I wish I could steal first" Pierre? This battle should last right up the wire like last season. I'm only hoping that this time around, someone checks to see if Matt Holliday actually touches home.
No, I'm not bitter. Ok, maybe a little. But I'm not the only one.
3) The NL Central: This is the division that no one seems to want. Sure, the Cubs and Brewers are better than the other teams but is it really much of an accomplishment to better than the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates? The Brewers can hit, no doubt, but their starting pitching is awful and once Ben Sheets takes his yearly pilgrimage to the DL, it's going to get uglier than Ricky Martin at sixty-five. The Cubs have more questions with their lineup (especially if Fukudome struggles) but at least they have Carlos Marmol to close out games once they get over this Bob Howry nonsense and drink their Marmol-ade. But they'll still be relying on Jason Marquis and the remains of Jon "Lefties make me pee my pants" Lieber to hold up the back end of that rotation. This could be an ugly division but in a train-wreck-in-slow-motion kind of way. It will be compelling theater for the exact opposite reason that the NL West will be so good. Just Tivo it so the kiddies can't watch and you'll see what I mean.
2) The AL East: As a Yankees fan (and no, I don't think Joba Chamberlain can cure cancer), this normally would be my #1 storyline. However, not much happened this off-season to justify too much hype. Sure, A-Rod re-signed for the GDP of Andorra, but the biggest storyline was a trade that never impacted the division (see storyline #8). Still, the Red Sox and Yankees still look like great teams that should pummel each other about the head and neck for the entire season. Plus, the Rays shouldn't be pushovers (see storyline #5) and the Blue Jays are dangerous if healthy. Sure, the Orioles are going to be terrible but at least their management realized that they weren't going anywhere and pulled the trigger on the Bedard trade. Plus, it's possible that winning the division will be the only way into the playoffs for the BoSox and Yanks because of the two powerhouses in...
1) The AL Central: With one blockbuster trade, the Tigers instantly turned themselves into true contenders for not only their division, but for best team in baseball. Miguel Cabrera turns that lineup into a combination of Charybdis and Echidna (the mythological creature, not the cute mammal). It's truly pick your poison and if Sheffield is healthy, that team is going to score more than Wilt Chamberlain. However, their rotation is their potentially fatal flaw. If Dontrelle Willis continues to decline (and I think he will), then they're going to have to win a lot of 8-6 games. Without Zumaya and possibly Rodney, that bullpen suddenly looks pretty vulnerable too. Meanwhile, the Indians were quiet over the offseason but didn't have much work to do. They still have an outstanding 1-2 punch in Sabathia and Carmona along with an outstanding bullpen (well, beside their closer). The offense isn't as explosive as the Tigers' but it's plenty good especially if Pronk rebounds and stops staring at Grady Sizemore wistfully during at-bats. Sure, he's dreamy, but I picked your team to win it all last year SO DON'T LET ME DOWN AGAIN.
And with that, the list ends. Feel free to crush my list in the comments section. There's just one rule: no poking fun at Grady. He's a dreamboat and I won't hear otherwise.