1. Detroit--Many were surprised last season, myself included, at how the Tigers were unable to seize command of the division until the final weeks of the season. I can't see that happening again this season. When it is all said and done, the Tigers will be celebrating a third consecutive Central Division crown.
The Tigers starting lineup can't be matched in the division, and perhaps the entire A.L. Austin Jackson's numbers are trending up and the addition of Torii Hunter will give the Tigers two outstanding table-setters for the best 3-4-5 in the league. Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez will have an opportunity to drive in a ton of runs. Just how opposing managers will navigate through the middle of the Tigers lineup is a mystery to me.
Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly both had very good springs with Porcelllo winning the five spot and Smyly adding depth to the bullpen. Doug Fister has had some command issues this spring and Justin Verlander gave up three home runs in one of his final spring starts, but once the bell rings, I would expect the starting five to revert to their respective track records.
The bullpen is not quite as settled, and I'm not just referring to the closer. Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and Bruce Rondon have not been particularly sharp. Still, there is plenty of proven big league talent to get the job done.
2. Kansas City--I know what you're thinking. The Royals are a trendy pick. That may be, but they do have a lot of talent on their squad. Dayton Moore pulled the trigger on a gutsy deal that sent top prospect Wil Myers to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis. The move signals that the Royals think they are ready to win right now. Pitching, or lack thereof, has been an issue for the Royals. That has changed with a legitimate ace at the top of their rotation. The additions of Ervin Santana and Wade Davis has added depth, so much so, that Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen are listed as bullpen pieces.
A lineup loaded with good young talent is also a big plus. Alex Gordon has finally blossomed and the infield boasts budding stars Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Salvy Perez and Alcides Escobar. Toss in the sweet swinging Billy Butler and there is plenty to be excited about for years to come.
The Royals established a club record in victories this spring, and while that means very little when the regular season starts, it does indicate that the team is headed in the right direction.
3. Chicago--Chris Sale and Jake Peavy give the Sox a strong duo at the top of the rotation and power arms Addison Reed, Matt Thornton and Nate Jones anchor a potentially solid back end of the bullpen. The Sox will miss A.J. Pierzynski both at the plate and behind it, but plenty of power remains with Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo.
Still, age and injuries are a concern in certain areas. John Danks is on the D.L and Alex Rios is still a wild card. Defense up the middle should be solid with Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham and center fielder Alejandro De Aza, who also developed into a fine lead off hitter last season.
4. Cleveland--The Indians are improved and Tribe fans are excited again. A new manager (Terry Francona) and more power and speed with the additions of Drew Stubbs, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds has Cleveland talking baseball again. Talented holdovers Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana add to the offense. All well and good, but their rotation is still sub par.
Ubaldo Jimenez has not recaptured his previous dominance and Justin Masterson is just not nearly consistent enough. Cleveland does not have a starter to match division aces like Justin Verlander, Chris Sale and James Shields. Pitching ultimately sinks the Tribe as it has in previous seasons.
5. Minnesota--Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are still around, but the Twins are clearly several years away from raising any championship banners again.
The rotation has been rebuilt, but names like Worley, Pelfrey, Correia and Hendriks have to make you wonder how the Twins will survive. They traded away two of their more valuable pieces in outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere and Worley was one of the main pitching pieces acquired in return from the Phillies. He will oppose Justin Verlander on opening day and he will have to be awfully good this season.
As the trading deadline approaches, Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau may be headed elsewhere. The Twins have such a long way to go