With the NL wrapped up, we turn our attention to the AL, starting with the east. The Louisville Legends have won every division title in the league's history and managed to make their first World Series appearance (losing to Austin). Do they make it an astounding 10 straight division titles? Or is this the season Boston, New York, or Scranton finally beats them out?
Last season: 81-81 (2nd in AL East)
Offense: 2nd in AL
Pitching: 13th in AL
Summary: They have offensive talent in a hitter's park, which leads to plenty of runs. SS Daniel Koch, 1B Wilton Petrick, RF Ryan Snyder, and 2B Tommy Jordan all drove in at least 100 runs- only Snyder (free agent signing with Trenton) won't be back. They'll also return C Rick Anderson, CF Butch Swift, 3B Frank Campbell, and RF Harold Lewis and they added LF Bernie Soriano (Pittsburgh), so they can hit with anyone in the AL.
They lack pitching talent in a hitter's park, which leads to plenty of runs. Longtime ace Daryl Cashman may be in the bullpen now, but I predict he'll be back in the rotation in short order. They dealt for James Morton last season (Milwaukee) to be the ace, but he struggled in 10 starts in Boston. They're going with 4 young starters after that (B.C. Santiago, David James, Pascual Beltre, Victor Sierra) who may or may not pan out- I'd give James the best shot out of the three. Beltre should be solid eventually, but I'm not sold on Santiago or Sierra- at best they're innings eaters. Larry Driskill looks like a good young closer, and he's got veteran former starters in Cashman and Christy Castillo to help in the pen.
Outlook: The offense is good enough to compete this season. But I'm not sure even the most optimistic of Boston fans would have enough faith in this young starting staff to carry them past Louisville or even to a wild card spot.
Last season: 105-57 (1st in AL East, 1st in AL, AL Champions)
Offense: 1st in AL
Pitching: 6th in AL
Summary: The offense will look a little different, but it's mostly the same crew that blew away AL pitching staffs last season. All-Star SS Amp Palmer, LF Albert Martin, C/DH Ernest Montgomery, RF Stubby Byrne, C Steven O'Malley, and 3B Orlando Franco are all dangerous hitters. They're expecting 1B Ismael Polanco to return healthy this season and provide yet another bat in the middle of this lineup. They expect big things from CF Trever Pierre, a young speedster. This lineup may not be quite as good as last season's, but they're still awfully good.
As with the offense, the pitching staff lost a little depth but should still be solid. Their top 3 is in tact with Danny Little, Hipolito Maradona, and Lance Stevens- all are good veteran arms. They may miss Claude Jacquez (signed with Atlanta) at the end of the rotation- I'm not sure how much they can count on longtime minor leaguer Dennis Knorr to contribute. Buddy Titan struggled at times as the closer but he's a reliable veteran.
Outlook: They lost some pieces but they're still better than anyone else in this division. They might not win 105 again, but they'll be among the best in the AL yet again.
NEW YORK KNICKERBOCKERS
Last season: 60-102 (Last in AL East)
Offense: Last in AL
Pitching: 8th in AL
Summary: Changes had to be made to this offense. 1B Mule Mulholland led the team with 80 RBI, but that doesn't even begin to tell the story. They had 7 regulars hit double digit totals in strikeouts, led by SS Mateo James's sickening 202. So the New York front office handed out some major contracts this offseason, making big splashes in signing 3B Denny Moss from Seattle and C Cy Hughes from Huntington. Those two will be expected to lead the offense, joining Mulholland and young infielders Marcus Goldman and Albert Dale. LF Karl Benes is a solid, if unspectacular, bat.
Surprisingly, their offense may be the better part of their team. Their starting pitchers are Dixie Reynolds, Vin Espinosa, Marv Starr, Benito Maduro, and Jackie Page; can't say I'd have a lot of faith in any one of those guys. Jason Franco took a step back last season as the closer, and there are question marks outside of Tom Cummings in the steup roles.
Outlook: Their offense will unquestionably be better, but I don't see the pitching staff holding up over 162 games. They could challenge Scranton for third, but don't look beyond that.
Last season: 70-92 (3rd in AL East)
Offense: 13th in AL
Pitching: 15th in AL
Summary: At least CF Turner Dolan doesn't feel like a 1-man crew anymore. He at least had nominal support with RF slugger Victor Mercado and C Odalis James having nice offensive seasons around him. To provide further depth, they added veteran IF Stan Peterson (Monterrey), formerly highly touted 3B Jay Hegan (Cheyenne), and speedy IF Tony Delgado (Milwaukee). This could be the deepest lineup they've had since the back-to-back wild card teams.
The pitching staff is where they may have trouble. Of their top 4 winners from last season, three are gone (Dennys Fox, Steve Elster, Jesus Estrada) and Bing Brow has been demoted to the pen. This season they'll try to piece it together with a starting staff of Kelly Downs (who may or may not have anything left at age 36), Tito Mercedes (free-agent signing after washing out with Salem), Rule-5 draftee Junior Guillen, rookie Luke Stein (who I think has a nice future but he may struggle a bit this season), and Michael Giambi (who the organization is still waiting for to turn the corner). Arthur Gates is the closer-for now. It could very well be someone else at the end of the season.
Outlook: They'll be battling with New York again to stay out of the basement. But they won't pitch nearly enough to be anywhere close to Boston, never mind Louisville.