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Who’s Going to Steal Our American League Pennant?

One of the charms of being a sports fan in this wonderful city of ours is the expectation that our teams should win the pennant every season: We spend the most money, after all! The Yankees, for example, didn’t spend $423.5 million on three players this off-season so they could finish third again. So who in the American League is most likely to swipe the pennant from its rightful owner (us)? Here’s a team-by-team look at the American League, with odds from on each team’s likelihood of stealing the pennant … and whether it’s worth putting down $100 on that happening.

But first, the home team’s chances.

New York Yankees: 5 to 2. Yes, they added CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, but the losses of Mike Mussina (twenty wins) and Bobby Abreu (.296, 100 RBI) aren’t insignificant. Still, the rotation is much improved over last season’s if it’s healthy. A-Rod’s return in mid-May will be crucial, and not just because he’ll need to make up for six weeks of Cody Ransom: If the third-baseman struggles early, Yankee fans will turn on him faster than you can say “boli.” Good bet? No.

Boston Red Sox: 3 to 1. Losing Manny Ramirez at the trading deadline would have stung a lot more if the Sox didn’t have two young players — Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis — developing into bona fide stars. (This fact should also be very concerning to Yankees fans, particularly as we watch our own onetime stud Robinson Cano get progressively worse.) They got within one game of the World Series in 2008 even though their best player (David Ortiz) and best pitcher (Josh Beckett) had injuries. The front end of the rotation is terrific, though they can’t realistically expect too much out of John Smoltz when he joins the team in June. Good bet? Yes.

Los Angeles Angels: 11 to 2. Their bullpen is deep, so losing their closer, Francisco Rodriguez, won’t hurt them as much as it would most other teams. And while we in New York are worrying about how Mark Teixeira will replace Bobby Abreu in the Yankees lineup, Abreu will be replacing Texeira in the Angels’ batting order. It’s a closer comparison than you might think, at least offensively, especially considering that Abreu will be on a mission to prove he’s worth more than the lowball $5 million in base salary the Angels gave him in a one-year contract. Good bet? Yes.

Cleveland Indians: 8 to 1. Their key off-season signings were Carl Pavano and Kerry Wood, so apparently passing a physical isn’t required to sign a contract with the Indians. Cliff Lee just had the season of his life, and won two more games in 2008 than the Tribe’s other four projected starters combined. That said, if Fausto Carmona can resemble the pitcher he was in 2007, the Indians will have a formidable top of the rotation. Good bet? No.

Tampa Bay Rays: 8 to 1. Quite possibly the fourth-best team in the American League, the Rays are just in the wrong division. Because while last year’s AL champs rely on continued, incremental improvement from their young players, a team like the Yankees can totally revamp their roster — and rotation in particular — in a single off-season. Like the Red Sox, though, their pitching staff will be reinforced mid-season when David Price, who’ll start the year in the minors, is called up. Good bet? Yes.

Detroit Tigers: 10 to 1. We’ll spare you the bailout jokes, but no team in the majors was more disappointing last year than 74-win Detroit. Besides some positioning changes (like deciding to switch Brandon Inge from catcher to third base), the Tigers’ biggest moves of the off-season were cutting ties with Gary Sheffield (despite the fact that he’s only one home run shy of 500) and replacing poor-fielding shortstop Edgar Renteria with Adam Everett. On paper, they could steal the wide-open Central, but they do have a long way to go from last year. Good bet? Yes.

Minnesota Twins: 14 to 1. The AL Central may not be the best division in baseball, but it could be the most competitive. The Twins might be deep enough to rise above the field: Four of their five starters won ten games last year, and the only one who didn’t was Francisco Liriano, who was coming off Tommy John Surgery. The catch (pardon the pun)? If backstop Joe Mauer doesn’t return promptly (and fully healed) from off-season surgery to repair kidney blockage a back injury, unrelated to his off-season surgery to repair kidney blockage, then all bets are off. Good bet? Yes.

Chicago White Sox: 15 to 1. The back end of the rotation could be a problem for last year’s division champs, and in a tight race, penciling in Bartolo Colon on anything but an emergency basis could be the difference. Good bet? No.

Oakland Athletics: 16 to 1. The A’s season comes down to three questions, basically: Will Matt Holliday’s numbers remotely hold up when he’s not playing 81 games a year a mile above sea level in a ginormous field? Will freedom from New York — and the ability to grow even more crazy facial hair — make Jason Giambi any better? And can the A’s get by without a legitimate closer? The answers: probably, probably not, and no. Good bet? No.

Texas Rangers: 25 to 1. As usual, they don’t have much pitching — Kevin Milwood, their ace, had an ERA over five last year — so they’ll need to hit their way to victories. Unfortunately, Josh Hamilton’s career seems to have peaked during last year’s Home Run Derby (and in the second round, no less). Still, the top half of their lineup is loaded, and after the Angels, the AL West is weak. Good bet? Yes.

Kansas City Royals: 40 to 1. The Royals added $25 million in payroll, which in Royals dollars is a fortune. They’ve got decent enough pitching (Zack Greinke, Gil Meche), and took a chance on some mid-level players (Coco Crisp, Mike Jacobs) through trades. It’s worth noting, though, that they are the new employer of Yankee-fan scapegoat Kyle Farnsworth, who will set up for closer Joakim Soria. Good bet? Yes.

Seattle Mariners: 40 to 1. Ken Griffey Jr. returning to Seattle is a nice enough story, but in terms of actual baseball value, it won’t help nearly enough. The one ray of hope for the Mariners is that starting pitchers Felix Hernandez and Eric Bedard couldn’t possibly have worse years than they did last year. Good bet? No.

Toronto Blue Jays: 40 to 1. They’ll win more games than Baltimore simply because they have Roy Halliday. But they’re in a brutal division, and pretty much stayed pat this off-season (not to mention losing eighteen-game winner A.J. Burnett to none other than the Yankees). They probably won’t bite, but since the Jays are more than one player away from competing, teams will at least inquire about Halliday at the trade deadline, right? Good bet? No.

Baltimore Orioles: 70 to 1. They’re the longest shot in the American League, and for good reason. Particularly after ace Jeremy Guthrie (10–12 last year), the rotation is suspect, to say the least. Their other four projected starters combined for seventeen wins last year, six of which were in Japan, courtesy of newcomer Koji Uehara. (Another starter, Mark Hendrickson, has 381 career points in the NBA, for what it’s worth.) If there’s a bright side, it’s that the O’s have some young talent worth watching, particularly in the outfield with Nick Markakis and Adam Jones. Good bet? No.

Division Predictions
American League East:
1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees (Wild Card)
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles

American League Central:
1. Minnesota Twins
2. Chicago White Sox
3 Cleveland Indians
4. Detroit Tigers
5. Kansas City Royals

American League West:
1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Texas Rangers
3. Oakland Athletics
4. Seattle Mariners

Los Angeles Angels over New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox over Minnesota Twins

Los Angeles Angels over Boston Red Sox

Tomorrow: Who’s Going to Steal Our National League Pennant?

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Who’s Going to Steal Our American League Pennant?