- Boston Red Sox - They're balanced. Their starting pitching should be strong throughout the season, with Josh Beckett factoring into the Cy Young race, and their bullpen will once again be a key advantage for them. While they will surely see a drop-off in production from Mike Lowell and a continuation of the slow degradation of Manny Ramirez's prowess at the plate, those two things should be offset by a full season of Jacoby Ellsbury with the club along with improvements from Pedroia and Youkilis.
- New York Yankees - Heading back in the right direction with a renewed interest in actually developing talent from within the organization rather than simply going out and buying it, the Yankees are another year away from being able to take the AL East crown back from Boston. Kennedy and Hughes will both be cutting their teeth at the Major League level this year and, as such, will go through some rough stretches. Those two, along with Joba Chamberlain, Robinson Cano, and Melky Cabrera will usher in a new era for the Yankees over the next few years, one in which the Yankees actually return to the glory they had in the late 1990's. This is not the year for them, though, and the aging and increasingly ineffective Mussina, Damon, and Giambi will prove to be even more of an albatross to the team than Jeter's defense.
- Toronto Blue Jays - Their offense is not particularly impressive, but their starting pitching and their deep bullpen will carry them past Tampa in the standings. Barely. Halladay rebounds, Burnett makes 30 starts, and B.J. Ryan gives them a return on their investment. Dustin McGowan surprises all and wins 16, while striking out 190 with a respectable 3.40 ERA, which garners him a few votes on Cy Young ballots. Vernon Wells recovers some but not enough to get Jays' fans off his back regarding the huge contract he's hung around their neck.
- Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays - Kazmir, Shields, and Garza should prove to be a formidible three, but the back end of their rotation is questionable at best, and their bullpen will experience some shaky stretches as the recently un-retired Percival visits the DL for an extended stint this season. Their offense shows drastic signs of improvement, especially starting in late May, when the Willy Aybar experiment is abandoned for the future in the form of Evan Longoria.
- Baltimore Orioles - Bringing up the rear (and not letting anyone else get anywhere close to them), the Orioles finish with the worst record in the American League. They are abysmal in every facet of the game, especially after they trade Brian Roberts to the Cubs in early May. Adam Jones and Markakis give the fans a shred of hope for the future, but there seems to be very little to get excited about in Baltimore since the Ravens are not particularly good and The Wire is done.
- Cleveland Indians - Travis Hafner doesn't return to the 2006 level of production he spoiled Cleveland with, but he does right the ship a bit. The starting pitching after Sabathia and Carmona is adequate, but their bullpen carries them with Rafael Perez breaking out in a big way, relishing the set-up role after Betancourt is promoted to closer in the wake of a Joe Borowski injury. The offense picks up where it left off last year, and the Indians win the division by four games.
- Detroit Tigers - Having decided they would forgo trying to build from within, they sold their souls to become a smaller version of the Yankees, buying talent in the hopes of buying a championship. Renteria's shrinking range causes problems for an already problem-riddled pitching staff, with Willis failing to adjust to the AL, and Rogers spending nearly two months on the DL. Bonderman continues to be inadequate, as does their suspect bullpen.
- Kansas City Royals - I've already previewed them in detail here.
- Minnesota Twins - Their stay near the cellar is not a long one, but this season is a rough one for Twins fans as their young pitching staff experiences many ups and downs. Delmon Young plays well but does not save the franchise as some had hoped. Carlos Gomez steals 57 and shows blazing speed but at times struggles in centerfield, costing the Twins more than a couple games with mistakes in the outfield. Joe Mauer's health continues to be a problem.
- Chicago White Sox - While Orlando Cabrera proves to be an upgrade over Juan Uribe, the cost (a league-average innings eater in the form of Jon Garland) is greater than the gain. As was shown last season, they are a team that is getting older, and they have yet to address the issue in a prudent manner. As such, they continue to struggle, lacking any reliable starting pitching past Javier Vazquez or a bullpen that can get them to the 9th consistently.
- Seattle Mariners - The tandem of Cy Young Award Winner Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez dominate, while their remaining starters prove to be effective enough to hold off the Angels. Midseason call-ups Brandon Morrow and Wladimir Balentien prove to be integral to the Mariners winning the West. Richie Sexson manages to get his average over .240, and Adrian Beltre has his best season as a Mariner.
- California Angels - Health issues with their starting pitchers cause the Angels to rely too heavily on unreliable young starters Joe Saunders and Ervin "Johan" Santana. Their inability to make room on their roster for Brandon Wood continues to frustrate their fans, and when he is packaged with Mathis/Kotchman to bolster their pitching staff and perhaps enhance first base, his bat is lost forever. Their lack of depth in the bullpen with Scot Shields spending a few spans on the DL proves too costly and loses them the division.
- Oakland Athletics - Sure, Billy Beane sold off much of their talent to build for the future, but they still aren't as bad as the Rangers. Their pitching staff is by no means great, but Harden, Blanton, Street, and Foulke would each be the best pitcher in a Rangers uniform. Harden remains relatively healthy, making 26 effective starts. Their bullpen is a strength for them, and their young offense scores enough to keep them in most games. By the end of the season, the squad begins to gel and they play spoiler to the Tigers and Angels in September, while giving Seattle a scare in the penultimate weekend of the season before giving it away the next weekend.
- Texas Rangers - Their pitching is awful. Their starters can't bring enough leads to the almost passable bullpen, and their offense--although more potent than most had imagined behind the still surprising Josh Hamilton--is substandard in the competitive AL. Only the Orioles have a worse record in the American League.
- New York Mets - While they are not the team everyone predicted them to be with Santana and Martinez (who makes a mere 18 starts), they are still the class of the NL East in the regular season. If by nothing else than a by-product of pitching in the biggest market in the country, Santana wins the Cy Young with a season that is only arguably better than Jake Peavy's. Jose Reyes continues to swing for the fences while neglecting just getting on base. He leads the NL in steals but frustrates SABRmetricians everywhere. Injuries keep the race in the East close, but they manage to close it out with a week to spare. They do not enter the playoffs healthy, though.
- Atlanta Braves - Francoeur's new strength and a full season with Mark Teixeira have the offense clicking all season long. Yunel Escobar proves to be as effective a table-setter as Edgar Renteria was with more speed, and Jair Jurrjens gives Bobby Cox a legitimate third-starter. Glavine remains a viable fourth starter. Hampton makes 14 starts, which is 14 more than he made last year or the year before. While their middle relief makes for a little more excitement than anyone bargained for, Rafael Soriano makes due until Mike Gonzalez returns, giving him a set-up man worthy of the effort he'd put out up to that point. McCann regains some of his 2006 form and gives them 25 home runs. Chipper is healthy enough to finish third in the MVP voting.
- Philadelphia Phillies - They miss out on the Wild Card despite a weak September schedule when they're not playing the Braves, who finally thwart them in the final week of the season. Their inconsistent 3-5 starters and the bullpen's tendency to implode costs them when it becomes clear that no matter how good the left side of your infield is defensively, they cannot stop balls from travelling over the fence. Chase Utley proves that he is the true standout on the team, as Rollins comes back down to earth and Howard continues to show that the average he displayed in 2006 was an aberration.
- Washington Nationals - While finishing well out of the hunt, the enthusiasm surround the new ballpark coupled with the fact that the Marlins are also in this division allow the Nationals to finish in fourth place in the NL East. Their absolute lack of starting pitching is cumbersome, but their bullpen is a true strength. Their young outfield proves to be quite good, and Zimmerman gives Craig T. Nelson and the rest of the District hope for the future of the franchise. While they may not be as talented as the Marlins, they pass them in the standings with smoke and mirrors.
- Florida Marlins - Their stable of young, injury-prone pitchers like Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen, and Anibal Sanchez simply cannot stay healthy enough to vault the Marlins out of the cellar. Despite their microscopic payroll and their lack of an imposing power hitter, their offense does score runs behind a well-balanced attack led by Hanley Ramirez (who garners enough votes for a 6th place finish in the MVP voting even on as abysmal a team as the Marlins), Dan Uggla, Jeremy Hermida, and Josh Willingham, all of whom finish with more than 25 home runs.
- Milwaukee Brewers - In the division that no one wants to take, the Brewers back into the playoffs. Gallardo comes on strong in June and carries the team along with Manny Parra. Sheets is healthy for most of the second half of the season and makes almost 30 starts, which is 15 more than anyone realistically expected. Gagne doesn't last long in the closer role and after being demoted is shut down for the season with a shoulder injury, but the Brewers have nothing but depth in their bullpen, which proves to save them. Much as they have done the entire season, the offense provides them with just enough to edge out the Cubs when they meet in Milwaukee in the final weekend of the season. Ryan Braun is the NL MVP.
- Chicago Cubs - Despite underachieving all season, the Cubs find themselves in the race for the playoffs until the final weekend, where they have the chance to catch the Brewers only to squander the opportunity. Their bullpen consistently lets them down. The starting pitching outside of Rich Hill is extremely unpredictable. Kosuke Fukudome and Aramis Ramirez are formidable all year long, but the rest of the offense struggles to score runs with any degree of consistency, despite the addition of Brian Roberts.
- Cincinnati Reds - Dusty gets them into third place, but not without sacrificing the future of Aaron Harang, who throws 230 innings. Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto start the season well, but begin to tire as Baker rapes their arms. Violently. He manages to squander the talent of ML-ready Jay Bruce until August, when his bat can no longer be ignored. When he gets to play, Bruce tears it up, calling into question once more Baker's ability to manage young players.
- St. Louis Cardinals - Much to my chagrin, Albert Pujols gets shut down in July. Colby Rasmus provides them with some considerable pop, and Ankiel manages to crush the ball when he touches it which is about one of every four at-bats. Carpenter returns and pitches well but sadly doesn't regain his Cy Young form. Troy Glaus proves to have the better season than Scott Rolen making that trade appear to work out well for the Cardinals. La Russa retires at the end of the disappointing season.
- Houston Astros - Their offense is markedly improved from last season, but not enough to make up for having no pitching staff to speak of. Oswalt's skills continue to deteriorate ever so slightly, as his K-rate dwindles even more. Past Oswalt, their pitchers are so bad (including Jose Valverde, whose ERA barely stays below 4.50) that their offense could score seven runs a game and not finish over .500. And they don't do that.
- Pittsburgh Pirates - What is there to like? McLouth improves a bit. Bay gets his form back. Gorzelanny and Snell pitch well. Their other young hurlers elicit vomitous from Pirates fans.
- San Diego Padres - Pitching, pitching, pitching. Peavy is outstanding and finishes a close second in the Cy Young vote. Chris Young is great. Greg Maddux wins 15. Mark Prior learns much under Maddux's wing and stays off the DL upon his return. Their offense is still anemic, especially at Petco, although Kouzmanoff finally plays up to the expectations the club had of him last season when they got him from Cleveland. The bullpen fails to be as effective as last year, but they don't kill them as often as they'd have needed to to cost the Padres the division.
- Los Angeles Dodgers - Matt Kemp steps up in a huge way, and their pitching keeps them just ahead of the very good Rockies and Diamondbacks. Jeff Kent continues to defy Father Time and produces especially well for a second baseman. Loney doesn't provide the power they'd like from their first baseman, but he gets on base and drives in runs. Andruw Jones is a welcome upgrade from Juan Pierre and is the only Dodger other than Kemp to hit more than 30 home runs. Their lack of power hurts them, as they don't have the pitching that their divisional foes San Diego have.
- Colorado Rockies - Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales provide a nice complement to Jeff Francis. Holliday finishes second in MVP voting, with the Rockies contending for the NL West and the Wild Card until the final week of the season. Holliday finishes with 42 dingers to go along with his .319 average and 148 RBIs. Atkins and Hawpe each hit 30+ homers.
- Arizona Diamondbacks - Dan Haren disappoints Phoenicians. His worth does not outweigh his cost, and while he is a solid #2 starter, he is not the #1b starter they had in mind. In any other season, Webb's season would be Cy Young worthy, but Santana and Peavy are otherworldly, making him an afterthought. The offense struggles to consistently score runs, having prolonged droughts from their young hitters, which their offense is too reliant upon.
- San Francisco Giants - Worst offense ever? Probably. Their team is awful. If it weren't for Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum pitching every few days, they probably wouldn't sell any tickets. Or at least they shouldn't. This team is horrendous.
Indians over Yankees (Wild Card)
Red Sox over Mariners
Red Sox over Indians
Braves (WC) over Padres
Mets over Brewers
Braves over Mets
Braves over Red Sox
AL MVP Alex Rodriguez
NL MVP Ryan Braun
AL Cy Young Erik Bedard
NL Cy Young Johan Santana
AL ROY Jacoby Ellsbury
NL ROY Kosuke Fukudome
*matchups corrected thanks to the watchful eye of "anonymous"