The 2012 MLB regular season begins Wednesday, as the St. Louis Cardinals visit the Miami Marlins at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN -- yeah, we don't care what Japan says, tonight is the start of the baseball season! Last week, SB Nation New York delivered its National League East preview, while today we're showcasing the whole American League.
For a complete rundown of each division, check out this AL Preview StoryStream. Meanwhile, here's a preview of the AL Central:
Favorite: New York Yankees
Despite not making a huge splashes during the offseason, almost everything for the Yankees worked out. New York added to its starting pitching rotation by trading for youngster Michael Pidena, signing veteran Hiroki Kuroda and lo and behold got Andy Pettitte to unretire.
Sure, captain Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez aren't the player what they used to be, but they both are still productive (despite their large costs) and fit well with new stars, second baseman Robinson Cano and first baseman Mark Teixeira.
And lets not forget that C.C. Sabathia (19 wins, 3.00 ERA in 2011) still anchors the starting rotation and closer Mariano Rivera (44 saves, 0.90 WHIP) is still in the bullpen.
In the mix: Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays
This division has reached the point, talent wise, that any team could win it. However, things will need to go right for each franchise.
For Boston, the hope is that new manager Bobby Valentine can create a new culture of winning (do they know they won 90-plus game last season?). How that winning culture is going to be implemented, well, that's the question -- obviously, it doesn't involve beer in the clubhouse. Red Sox faithful are hoping the new culture involves highly-paid player actually living up to their expectations -- (cough, couch) Carl Crawford.
The Red Sox pitching rotation does feature a solid 1-2-3 punch in: Jon Lester, the Opening Day starter, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz. After that, its hoping that Daniel Bard can easily transition from the bullpen to No. 5 starter, while No. 4 starter, Felix Doubront, is a star in the making.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is just going to do what they do best under manager Joe Maddon -- let the young guns prove their worth.
This season's young star could be outfielder Desmond Jennings, who's projected to be as good as Carl Crawford was. Add Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, B.J. Upton and newly acquired first baseman Carlos Pena (yeap, he's back!), the Rays will be playoff contenders again.
Their five-man pitching rotation will showcase: David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson and rookie Matt Moore, which isn't too shabby either.
As for Toronto, well, a lot needs to go right for the 'Jays to make the postseason, but the pieces are there with outfield-slugger Jose Bautista leading the way. If the pitching staff, led by Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, can stay consistent and a few players have career years -- Edwin Encarnacion? Colby Rasmus? -- Toronto could make a run a the postseason.
Not a chance: Baltimore Orioles
The O's best player is Adam Jones and their starting rotation -- Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, Zach Britton -- looks like a lineup found in one of the Major League movies. Yikes.
For a complete rundown of the American League, check out this SB Nation New York StoryStream.
World Series Predictions (via sbnation)