1. Detroit Tigers
Offense: The Tigers enter 2008 competing with only the Yankees as the best lineup in baseball, and they are likely the favorites. Magglio Ordonez isnít going to hit .363 again, but Gary Sheffield should make more of an impact, and Carlos Guillen is one of the more underrated hitters in the game. The team also drastically improved defensively with Guillenís shift to first base. It will be interesting to see if Pudge Rodriguezís power surge this spring carries into the regular season, and he became just the seventh player in the history of major league baseball to walk fewer than 10 times in 500 at-bats last season. Itís scary to think what a sculpted Miguel Cabrera can do in his prime and in this lineup, but Iíll set the over/under for MVP awards at 2.5 for his career.
Pitching: As good as Detroitís hitting is, its pitching is equally as bad. Justin Verlander should contend for the Cy Young this season, but the bullpen is a complete mess; Todd Jonesí 4.39 K/9 IP over the last two years is almost unfathomable. Jeremy Bonderman has shown glimpses of greatness, but the end results have left a lot to be desired. Heís also a huge injury-risk moving forward. Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson should be mediocre enough to let the offense carry this team. Dontrelle Willis, on the other hand, is a major liability.
Outlandish fantasy prediction: Miguel Cabrera hits 50 homers with 160 RBI.
2. Cleveland Indians
Offense: The Indians were one win away from being the likely World Series champs last year, but because of that deep run, itís a team that should struggle to reach the postseason in 2008. The lineup is solid, with Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Ryan Garko, Franklin Gutierrez and Asdrubal Cabrera all in line for improvement. Itíd be nice if Andy Marte finally lived up to expectations, as Casey Blake is an uninspiring option at third. Whether Hafner goes back to hitting like he did in 2005/2006 or if last year was the beginning of a true decline will go a long way in deciding the Indiansí season.
Pitching: Sometimes, looking at pitchersí workload and then predicting future break downs based upon it can be overrated and misleading. However, C.C. Sabathia threw nearly 70 innings more last season than he ever had during his career. Fausto Carmona experienced a similar increased workload. This is a major concern for Clevelandís 2008 season. Jake Westbrook may prove to be a decent No. 3, but the rotation is ugly after that. Joe Borowski is likely no better than the fourth or fifth reliever in Clevelandís pen, but the fact the Indians have him acting as closer really shouldnít affect the standing too much.
Outlandish fantasy prediction: Ryan Garko drives in 100 runs.
3. Chicago White Sox
Offense: The White Sox have a potentially dangerous lineup, especially if Alexei Ramirez takes hold of the second base job and Carlos Quentin sees extensive action in the outfield. The Orlando Cabrera addition improved both the defense and offense, but the sooner the better that Josh Fields gets recalled and replaces Joe Crede at third. Nick Swisher is a 40-homer, 100-RBI candidate with the move to the homer-friendly ballpark, and despite his low batting average, heís a big help thanks to all the walks.
Pitching: Like most teams, Chicago has plenty of question marks with its rotation. Whether John Danks and Gavin Floyd can take the next step remains to be seen and has become increasingly less likely, while Jose Contreras looks just about done. Thatís what happens when you turn 50. Itís anyoneís guess which Mark Buehrle shows up this season, but a soft tosser playing in that ballpark means a campaign resembling his 2006 is more likely than his 2007. The bullpen is actually a strength, but counting on Javier Vazquez to repeat last yearís performance would be unwise.
Outlandish fantasy prediction: Jim Thome hits 50 bombs.
4. Minnesota Twins
Offense: Despite losing Torii Hunter and Johan Santana over the offseason, Minnesota is no doormat and would likely be a major threat in the AL West. As is, the Twins will be in the middle of the pack in a tough Central division. Delmon Young is going to be a monster, but heís still likely a year or two away from accomplishing it. The team has to hope last yearís collision at home plate was the cause for Justin Morneauís precipitous drop in power; he had 28 homers through July and three over the final two months. Speaking of power, it sure would be nice if Joe Mauer developed some one of these years; Iím still a believer.
Pitching: Francisco Liriano is likely to have an up-and-down season, especially with his control after coming back from TJ surgery, but whether his velocity fully returns is all that really matters to the Twinsí franchise. Boof Bonser has a better name than pitching skills, and trotting out Livan Hernandez as your Opening Day starter is hardly ideal. Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey arenít bad back-end options, but allocating so much budget to Joe Nathan, who is already 33 years old and can only make so much of an impact as a reliever, will prove to be a mistake.
Outlandish fantasy prediction: Carlos Gomez steals 60 bases.
5. Kansas City Royals
Offense: At least they have Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. Not much to like after that, but those two could be starting in the same All-Star game in the near future.
Pitching: Although thereís nothing in the form of depth, thereís some optimism at the top of the Royalsí rotation. Zack Greinke was extremely effective from June on last season, and his stuff is legit. Gil Meche was similarly a pleasant surprise. Joakim Soria should already be considered one of the 10 best relievers in baseball. Still, expect yet another last place finish in Kansas City.
Outlandish fantasy prediction: Alex Gordon is a top-5 third baseman.