With Opening Day a few days away, let's look into Baseball Prospectus' equivalent of a crystal ball, a projection system called PECOTA, to predict the standings in the American League. For the National League, click here.
PECOTA pegs the New York Yankees to go 90-72. While that record would be good enough to win any of the other five divisions in the major leagues, it will get the Yankees only a third-place finish in the AL East behind the Boston Red Sox (95-67) and wild-card-winning Tampa Bay Rays (91-71). Thus, the Yankees will go home in October, a year after winning it all.
The Yankees miss the playoffs.
PECOTA loves Boston's depth, particularly on offense. In fact, it projects everyone in the lineup to reach double-digits in home runs, starting with first baseman Kevin Youkilis (25) and continuing with designated hitter David Ortiz (24), center fielder Mike Cameron (22), catcher Victor Martinez (20), right fielder J.D. Drew (20), second baseman Dustin Pedroia (18), third baseman Adrian Beltre (18), left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (11) and shortstop Marco Scutaro (10). Throw in 56 stolen bases by Ellsbury and a .314 batting average from Pedroia, and it's easy to see why the Red Sox are expected to score 847, second in the majors and eight less than the Yankees.
The Rays are projected to eke out one more win than the Yankees for the wild card. The middle of the order is pegged for 93 homers with third baseman Evan Longoria hitting 34, first baseman Carlos Pena belting 33 and second baseman Ben Zobrist reprising his "Zorilla" role with 26. Add in 46 stolen bases by left fielder Carl Crawford, 37 steals by center fielder B.J. Upton and 14 wins by James Shields, and the Rays should win a lot of games.
The Yankees' only problem will be having the misfortune of playing in the AL East. The lineup will again be power packed withAlex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson all expected to hit at least 27 homers. Javier Vazquez and CC Sabathia are expected to pace the team with 14 wins apiece, and Mariano Rivera can be marked down for another 40 saves.
The AL Central won't have any juggernauts but should provide a wildly entertaining race with all five teams projected to finish within four games of each other. The Twins are pegged to become the first team to win a division with a nonwinning record at 81-81, putting them two games ahead of the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers -- all tabbed for 79-83 marks -- and four games in front of the Kansas City Royals (77-85).
The Twins win the division -- with a .500 record.
Joe Mauer is expected to come back down to earth after his phenomenal 2009 season but still lead the way for the Twins by hitting .322 with 20 home runs. First baseman Justin Morneau should be good for 31 homers and 110 RBIs while Matt Guerrier (18 saves) and Jon Rauch (16 saves) should effectively combine to make up for the loss of closer Joe Nathan to season-ending elbow surgery.
Other top performances to expect in the AL Central include a 15-win, 3.19 ERA season from Royals ace Zack Greinke, a 38-homer year by Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, a 30-homer season from White Sox right fielder Carlos Quentin and 48 stolen bases from Sox left fielder Juan Pierre.
One-game playoffs to determine either a division title or wild-card spot have become annual occurrences recently, and PECOTA sees a tiebreaker being needed in the AL West after the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners tie for first at 83-79, only one game ahead of the Texas Rangers (82-80) and five in front of the three-time defending division champion Los Angeles Angels (78-84).
The A’s and M’s have a one-game playoff to see who plays on.
PECOTA has high hopes of the A's Kurt Suzuki blossoming into one of the league's top offensive catchers by hitting .278 with 13 home runs. Brett Anderson's 11 wins will lead a rotation in which five pitchers notch at least nine victories while reigning AL rookie of the year Andrew Bailey is pegged for 33 saves.
Ichiro Suzuki's .317 batting average and new second baseman Chone Figgins' 41 stolen bases will highlight the Mariners' offense. Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee are projected for 14 victories each atop the rotation.
Right fielder Nelson Cruz's 32 home runs are expected to top a Rangers lineup that will have five 20-homer men while rookie center fielder Julio Borbon is tabbed for 31 steals. Angels first baseman Kendry Morales will prove his 2009 breakout season was not a fluke as he goes deep 32 times.
John Perrotto is the editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus.