Ranking the majors’ 2010 division races

If you don’t agree that the best races will be in the American League, consider the numbers. Ten of 14 teams enter the season with a legitimate chance of reaching the postseason. In the NL, the Phillies and Cardinals are such clear favorites that the West could end up being the only close call.

Ranking the division races:

By leaving the Angels for the M's, Chone Figgins may help change the dynamic in the AL West.
By leaving the Angels for the M’s, Chone Figgins may help change the dynamic in the AL West.

1. AL West
What’s to like: All four teams should contend in what shapes up as the majors’ deepest division. The three-time defending champion Angels lost four key players, including No. 1 starter John Lackey, while the Mariners, Rangers and Athletics all added potential aces in Cliff Lee, Rich Harden and Ben Sheets. Adding intrigue: The Angels’ blueprint is being copied as their three rivals put greater focus on defense and pitching. Seattle, in fact, snatched Angels catalyst Chone Figgins to pump up its offense.

"Everyone’s talking about three teams and discrediting Oakland, but they’re going to be a good defensive club with a very good pitching staff," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "You can make a legitimate case for any of the four teams."

Don’t be surprised if: Every team finishes .500. The A’s won 75 games last season — and that was after finishing on a seven-game losing streak.

Be surprised if: The Angels win fewer than 92 games. They have won at least that many in five of the past six seasons, the exception being an 89-win season in 2006.

2. AL East
What’s to like: The bullies have reloaded for another edition of the greatest rivalry in American sports. Game 1 of 18 will be Sunday night at Fenway Park. Whether the Yankees and Red Sox actually have improved remains to be determined. Boston sacrificed Jason Bay’s power for Mike Cameron’s defense, but that doesn’t mean it is better. New York is counting on the younger and more athletic Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner to replace postseason heroes Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. And don’t forget about the Rays. They could be the fourth-best team in the majors but only third-best in their own division.

Don’t be surprised if: The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays finish with 90 wins. Tampa Bay is too talented to finish 19 games behind the Yankees like it did last season.

Be surprised if: The Orioles aren’t the most improved team in the division. With a solid lineup and improved rotation, Baltimore should improve its win total into the 70s after finishing 64-98 in 2009.

With a healthy Grady Sizemore, the Indians may surprise.
With a healthy Grady Sizemore, the Indians may surprise.

3. AL Central
What’s to like: Picking a winner among the Twins, Tigers and White Sox is as tricky as figuring out who will close for Minnesota in place of the injured Joe Nathan.

Don’t be surprised if: The Indians are better than expected. Veterans Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook all are healthy and showing their old forms.

Be surprised if: A playoff isn’t needed to determine the division champ. There has been one the past two seasons.

4. NL West
What’s to like: This is the only division in which Sporting News is predicting a new champion from 2009. Thank you, Rockies. But if Colorado doesn’t have Huston Street healthy for most of the season, the Dodgers have the talent to make it three consecutive titles under Joe Torre.

Don’t be surprised if: The Giants remain stuck in third place because of a lack of offense. They needed Matt Holliday but settled for Mark DeRosa, Aubrey Huff and the return of Bengie Molina.

Be surprised if: The Diamondbacks finish last. Their rotation isn’t as thin as the Padres’ offense is lacking.

Dust Baker is on the hot seat in Cincinnati.
Dust Baker is on the hot seat in Cincinnati.

5. NL Central
What’s to like: If you don’t enjoy watching the game’s best player (Albert Pujols) or the game’s best 1-2 rotation punch (Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright), there always are the Cubs. Watching them come up short is as much a part of Chicago summers as the August air show.

Don’t be surprised if: This is Dusty Baker’s last season managing in Cincinnati. The Reds have become a trendy pick to contend. If they don’t, general manager Walt Jocketty might not extend Baker’s contract.

Be surprised if: The Pirates finish with a winning record. They are trying to avoid their 18th consecutive losing season.

6. NL East
What’s to like: The Phillies are making a run at history. A division crown would be their fourth in a row, a feat they never have accomplished. They also are gunning to become the first NL team to win three consecutive pennants since the Cardinals in the early-1940s. If Brad Lidge returns to his 2008 form, this shouldn’t be much of a race.

Don’t be surprised if: The Braves win the wild card, a reachable goal in Bobby Cox’s final season.

Be surprised if: The Nationals lose 100 games for a third straight season. Stephen Strasburg and Chien-Ming Wang will join the rotation at some point.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

If you don’t agree that the best races will be in the American League, consider the numbers. Ten of 14 teams enter the season with a legitimate chance of reaching the postseason. In the NL, the Phillies and Cardinals are such clear favorites that the West could end up being the only close call.

Ranking the division races:

By leaving the Angels for the M's, Chone Figgins may help change the dynamic in the AL West.
By leaving the Angels for the M’s, Chone Figgins may help change the dynamic in the AL West.

1. AL West
What’s to like: All four teams should contend in what shapes up as the majors’ deepest division. The three-time defending champion Angels lost four key players, including No. 1 starter John Lackey, while the Mariners, Rangers and Athletics all added potential aces in Cliff Lee, Rich Harden and Ben Sheets. Adding intrigue: The Angels’ blueprint is being copied as their three rivals put greater focus on defense and pitching. Seattle, in fact, snatched Angels catalyst Chone Figgins to pump up its offense.

"Everyone’s talking about three teams and discrediting Oakland, but they’re going to be a good defensive club with a very good pitching staff," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "You can make a legitimate case for any of the four teams."

Don’t be surprised if: Every team finishes .500. The A’s won 75 games last season — and that was after finishing on a seven-game losing streak.

Be surprised if: The Angels win fewer than 92 games. They have won at least that many in five of the past six seasons, the exception being an 89-win season in 2006.

2. AL East
What’s to like: The bullies have reloaded for another edition of the greatest rivalry in American sports. Game 1 of 18 will be Sunday night at Fenway Park. Whether the Yankees and Red Sox actually have improved remains to be determined. Boston sacrificed Jason Bay’s power for Mike Cameron’s defense, but that doesn’t mean it is better. New York is counting on the younger and more athletic Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner to replace postseason heroes Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. And don’t forget about the Rays. They could be the fourth-best team in the majors but only third-best in their own division.

Don’t be surprised if: The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays finish with 90 wins. Tampa Bay is too talented to finish 19 games behind the Yankees like it did last season.

Be surprised if: The Orioles aren’t the most improved team in the division. With a solid lineup and improved rotation, Baltimore should improve its win total into the 70s after finishing 64-98 in 2009.

With a healthy Grady Sizemore, the Indians may surprise.
With a healthy Grady Sizemore, the Indians may surprise.

3. AL Central
What’s to like: Picking a winner among the Twins, Tigers and White Sox is as tricky as figuring out who will close for Minnesota in place of the injured Joe Nathan.

Don’t be surprised if: The Indians are better than expected. Veterans Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook all are healthy and showing their old forms.

Be surprised if: A playoff isn’t needed to determine the division champ. There has been one the past two seasons.

4. NL West
What’s to like: This is the only division in which Sporting News is predicting a new champion from 2009. Thank you, Rockies. But if Colorado doesn’t have Huston Street healthy for most of the season, the Dodgers have the talent to make it three consecutive titles under Joe Torre.

Don’t be surprised if: The Giants remain stuck in third place because of a lack of offense. They needed Matt Holliday but settled for Mark DeRosa, Aubrey Huff and the return of Bengie Molina.

Be surprised if: The Diamondbacks finish last. Their rotation isn’t as thin as the Padres’ offense is lacking.

Dust Baker is on the hot seat in Cincinnati.
Dust Baker is on the hot seat in Cincinnati.

5. NL Central
What’s to like: If you don’t enjoy watching the game’s best player (Albert Pujols) or the game’s best 1-2 rotation punch (Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright), there always are the Cubs. Watching them come up short is as much a part of Chicago summers as the August air show.

Don’t be surprised if: This is Dusty Baker’s last season managing in Cincinnati. The Reds have become a trendy pick to contend. If they don’t, general manager Walt Jocketty might not extend Baker’s contract.

Be surprised if: The Pirates finish with a winning record. They are trying to avoid their 18th consecutive losing season.

6. NL East
What’s to like: The Phillies are making a run at history. A division crown would be their fourth in a row, a feat they never have accomplished. They also are gunning to become the first NL team to win three consecutive pennants since the Cardinals in the early-1940s. If Brad Lidge returns to his 2008 form, this shouldn’t be much of a race.

Don’t be surprised if: The Braves win the wild card, a reachable goal in Bobby Cox’s final season.

Be surprised if: The Nationals lose 100 games for a third straight season. Stephen Strasburg and Chien-Ming Wang will join the rotation at some point.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*