Scanning through the American League's prospects this coming season, one sentiment leaps to the front of the brain:
Baseball badly needs to add one more playoff team from each league.
It's one thing to be the NBA or the NHL, in which making the postseason is only slightly more difficult than knowing how to spell "Mikhail D. Prokhorov." It's another altogether to suppress the hopes of your teams. And this season, like any other, the Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays must pray to the heavens for massive injury and incompetence to befall either the Yankees or the Red Sox.
Baseball's two superpowers are getting richer and smarter, the latter adjective producing the former. While they're not perfect, they can afford a few mistakes along the way to the playoffs. And from the early look of things, neither club committed any serious mistakes this past winter, with valuable players such as Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron (at right), Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson, John Lackey and Javier Vazquez joining The Rivalry. The safe bet is for the two clubs to both secure playoff spots for the eighth time in 13 years.
Which means that no other team in the AL East could enjoy the playoffs, and just one team each from the Central and West. Consider that last year, a formidable 87-75 Texas team would've captured that fifth playoff spot. With exciting players such as OF Josh Hamilton, SS Elvis Andrus and RHP Neftali Feliz, the Rangers would have only enhanced the playoffs.
But enough lobbying. For now, the AL still will send only four teams to the playoffs, which means an ultra-talented Rays team will have to avoid major potholes like Pat Burrell's face-plant in 2009. As good as Tampa Bay is, the challenge might just be too daunting.
The other two divisions? We figure to get a nice race in the Central between the suddenly big-market Twins and the pitching-heavy White Sox. Chicago's starting rotation has the potential to be so good that the White Sox get the nod here. Especially with Twins closer Joe Nathan needing Tommy John surgery.
Out West, the Angels lost Chone Figgins (to Seattle) and Lackey (to Boston) and added Hideki Matsui and Joel Piñeiro. That'll do, in a division in which none of the other clubs stand out. And in which no one can even come close to the quality of the Yankees or Red Sox.
Ken Davidoff examines the best things in the American League
(with considerable help from a scout from an AL team):
1. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
2. Josh Hamilton, Texas
3. Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle
BEST OUTFIELD ARM
1. Josh Hamilton, Texas
2. Nelson Cruz, Texas
3. Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle
1. Mariano Rivera, Yankees
2. Jonathan Papelbon, Boston
3. Zack Greinke, Kansas City
1. Zack Greinke, Kansas City
2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle
3. Josh Beckett, Boston
1. Joe Girardi, Yankees
2. Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles
3. Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay