PHILADELPHIA -- After what seemed like the longest offseason ever, Major League Baseball is finally ready to open up shop again this week.
Perhaps it's the constant coverage, but this spring training seemed to linger longer. Twitter has become a terrific resource, but batter-by-batter updates in the spring is just too much, even for baseball diehards.
Anyway, the American League landscape has changed a lot since the end of last season, but a lot has also stayed the same. We start the year the same way we started last season: with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees as the favorites to represent the Junior Circuit in the World Series.
Of course, things don't always go on as planned, since neither of those two teams were in the Fall Classic a year ago. As they say, that is why they play the games.
For an insight into the season, here's a brief synopsis for each division and a look at some of the teams who will try to unseat the Texas Rangers as this year's AL representative:
BOSTON RED SOX:
The Red Sox missed out on the postseason for the first time in four years last season. It's hard to believe they will be watching at home this year following an offseason that saw them land not only outfielder Carl Crawford, but slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in addition to a few bullpen upgrades.
Now if Boston stays healthy in its rotation, the offensive additions will pretty much be a moot point. Jon Lester has blossomed into one of the five best pitchers in baseball and Clay Buchholz seems to be on that path as well. Mix in John Lackey, who should be better than he was his first year in Beantown, and a healthy Josh Beckett, and you have the makings of a staff that could be elite.
NEW YORK YANKEES:
New York had set its sights on adding free agent lefty Cliff Lee this winter, but came up empty when he turned down the Yankees' money to go to Philadelphia. To compound matters, Andy Pettitte retired and the Yankees were left scrambling to fill two rotation spots from the likes of young Ivan Nova and aging veterans Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
The Yankees return essentially the same lineup that scored more runs than any team in baseball last season. Keep in mind the Yankees racked up those 859 runs and 95 wins despite down years from Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
New York's pitching isn't as bad as people are making it out to be. For one, their bullpen is as good as it has been in some time with the addition of Rafael Soriano. And two, people are getting too hung up on who a team's fourth or fifth starter will be. Who cares? If A.J. Burnett pitches well it won't matter, and besides, the Yankees have the resources to go out and acquire another starter in July if need be.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX:
The White Sox made a big move in the Central in signing slugger Adam Dunn, but is it enough to get them past the Minnesota Twins? On paper the White Sox look good, but their biggest obstacle may be overcoming their volatile manager.
It's almost amazing to me that Ozzie Guillen still has a job. The constant outbursts, the idiotic remarks, his family insulting the organization. Enough is enough. You can almost let it slide if the team was winning. That World Series title in 2005 is a long time ago, though. His act gets more tired with each season. Mark my words, should the White Sox get off to a bad start this year, general manager Kenny Williams will not hesitate to pull the trigger and replace Guillen.
Even Guillen may not be able to stop the White Sox this year, though. Dunn is a 40-home run guy year-in and year-out, and with him combining with Paul Konerko and Alex Rios, this is a lineup that is going to score some runs. As big of a factor as I think Dunn is going to be, though, the player who may be the most important to the White Sox is second baseman Gordon Beckham, who is poised to have a big bounce-back campaign following a disappointing second season.
While the manager may be the White Sox' biggest obstacle, the biggest reason the Twins are always in the mix is because of skipper Ron Gardenhire, who was the AL's Manager of the Year for the first time in his career last season.
The Twins have won the division the last two seasons without the services of Justin Morneau down the stretch. The first baseman is still feeling the effects from last year's concussion, but should be ready to go at the start of the season. How long he stays in the lineup is another question.
I'm not exactly sure how they do it, but the Twins are just real good at playing baseball. By hook or by crook, they find themselves playing meaningful baseball in the last month of the season. That should be the case again this year.
A lot of Minnesota's success has to do with the fact that the AL Central is mediocre, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that the Twins are just a top-notch organization from top-to-bottom.
As good as Chicago and the Twins may be, they both could be looking up at the Detroit Tigers, though. The Tigers struggled last season despite a sensational year from Miguel Cabrera, but still managed to finish .500. Cabrera had zero help from his lineup last year, but that should be different with the Tigers' signing of Victor Martinez this winter.
Like Cabrera, Detroit righty Justin Verlander was sensational but had little help from his rotation mates. Rick Porcello came on down the stretch and should be past his sophomore slump, while a lot of people expect flame-throwing righty Max Scherzer to have a breakout season this year.
The Rangers are still the favorites, but they could be in store for a letdown season following their first-ever trip to the World Series.
Without Lee, there is no real ace on this staff. Brandon Webb was brought in to be that guy, but he has barely pitched in the last two seasons and has already been shut down with a sore shoulder. Not to mention reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton is always a game away from a stint on the disabled list.
This whole Michael Young drama could be a distraction, too. though Young seems like too much of a professional to let that happen. That could be the best thing the Rangers have going for them heading into the season.
When Texas missed out on Lee, they signed Adrian Beltre to play third base. I'm not saying that Beltre does not give 100 percent effort all the time, but his two best years have come in contract seasons. Well I guess I am then, huh?
LA ANGELS OF ANAHEIM:
Speaking of injuries ,the Angels had a ton of them last season. The worst, of course, was the broken leg to Kendrys "Don't Call Me Kendry" Morales, who was injured following a walk-off home run celebration in May. Yeah, it was that kind of year for Mike Scioscia's crew.
The Angels had a pretty awful offseason that was highlighted by the trade that landed them Vernon Wells and his enormous contract. Still and all, though, if the Angels stay healthy they have as good a chance as anyone to win the AL West.
The team to watch out West is the Oakland Athletics. General manager Billy Beane has put together a terrific young team, especially in the starting rotation. Brett Anderson broke out two years ago and Trevor Cahill won 18 games last season. This year another one of the young guns, left-hander Gio Gonzalez, could be the breakout starter.
The A's can pitch, but I'm not sure they are going to be able to score enough runs to make a real push for a division title just yet.
BEST OF THE REST
TAMPA BAY: Following an offseason fire sale that saw them lose Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, and most of their bullpen, not much is expected from the defending AL East champion Rays. However, they have some terrific young pitching, meaning they could be back with the division's elite sooner rather than later.
TORONTO: The Jays crushed a major-league high 257 home runs last season and still finished fourth in the AL East. They could get to third this season, but more likely they will be battling the Orioles for the division cellar.
BALTIMORE: Buck Showalter seems to have changed the mind-set and identity of this Orioles team. The O's have a pretty good lineup on paper, but I don't think the young pitching is there yet.
KANSAS CITY: The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter by the day, as blue-chip prospects Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer should both be with the team by the All-Star break.
CLEVELAND: Jack Hannahan is the Indians' starting third baseman. Enough said.
SEATTLE: There may not be a team in baseball with less expectations than the Mariners. New manager Eric Wedge has his work cut out for him, but he does have one of the best pitchers in the game in Felix Hernandez at his disposal.
AL EAST: NY YANKEES AL CENTRAL: DETROIT TIGERS AL WEST: LA ANGELS WILD CARD: BOSTON RED SOX
ALDS: YANKEES OVER TIGERS, RED SOX OVER ANGELS ALCS: YANKEES OVER RED SOX
AL MVP: ADAM DUNN, CHICAGO WHITE SOX AL CY YOUNG: JON LESTER, BOSTON RED SOX AL ROOKIE: ERIC HOSMER, KANSAS CITY ROYALS AL MANAGER: BOB GEREN, OAKLAND ATHLETICS