Check out the National League Preview in case you missed it.
"Hope springs eternal in the human breast."
The line from an "Essay of Man" by Alexander Pope in 1733 has held up remarkably well. Every year, as March turns to Madness and the weather becomes Spring-like (at least in theory), sports fans turn their attention to baseball.
And at some point the first part of the English poet's famous line – "hope springs eternal" – turned into a baseball cliche. But its meaning is timeless.
The Pirates are in first place, the Royals are undefeated and there is hope. Hope that this year your boyhood team might make some noise. Hope that your team, which finished in third place the previous season and hasn't won in 56 years, might be able to bring a World Championship home. Sound far-fetched? That's exactly what the 2010 San Francisco Giants did. And hope, if you're like many Yankee-haters across the country, that Derek Jeter, A-Rod and the boys will fail again.
Hope springs eternal, indeed. So without further ado, the 2011 American League preview:
Baltimore Orioles - The Orioles made some noise with the hiring of Buck Showalter in July, going 34-23 under his stewardship after stumbling to the worst record in baseball at the time, 31-70, without him. Now with the additions of Vladimir Guerrero and J.J. Hardy, the Orioles hope they will be able to make a dent in the top-heavy AL East.
Boston Red Sox - The Red Sox won 89 games despite missed time from Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett, Mike Cameron and others. An off-season splash that brought in Adrian González and Carl Crawford has made them the favorite in the AL East. González, who hit .298 with 31 home runs and 108 RBIs for the San Diego Padres in cavernous Petco Park, moves to the middle of the order at cozy Fenway Park, and his numbers should see a bump across the board.
New York Yankees - The bruising Bombers lineup will score runs in bunches with a slimmed down Alex Rodríguez leading the attack. The importance of spring training numbers is always debated, but the Yankees have to be happy to see A-Rod batting .404 with 6 home runs and 14 RBIs in March. Nonetheless, the key to the Yanks making the playoffs in a crowded American League will be how the back-end of the rotation in Iván Nova, Freddy García and Bartolo Colón perform. Colón, who had a blistering spring of his own, will start the season in the bullpen.
Tampa Bay Rays – Gone are Carl Crawford, Matt Garza and Carlos Peña. In their place, the Rays added the mercurial Manny Ramírez, as well as Johnny Damon. The team hopes the aging stars can recapture some of their past magic to help them keep pace in the AL East. In Garza's place, the Rays are turning to young starter Jeremy Helickson, who acquitted himself well in a handful of late-season starts going 4-0 with a 3.47 era and 33 strikeouts.
Toronto Blue Jays – José Bautista busted out in a big way with 54 home runs in 2010. Now, the Blue Jays, who finished in fourth place despite 85 wins, hope to get something more out of their starters. To that end, they will hope that Ricky Romero, 26, is coming into his own as a top pitcher in the American League. Romero was 14-9 with a 3.73 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP.
Chicago White Sox – Ozzie Guillén may be the biggest talker on the White Sox, but it's the players who have to play the games. The White Sox are coming off of an 88-win season that saw them come close to making the playoffs. The addition of masher Adam Dunn (38 home runs) and the continued maturation of John Danks (15 wins at age 25) have the White Sox thinking big. But will Alex Rios ever reach the lofty 30-30 numbers expected of him? At the age of 30, time is running out for him to make a leap from his 19-homer average over the last four seasons.
Cleveland Indians – Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana. Each player is important to the Indians in different ways. Sizemore has long been a fan favorite who averaged 27 home runs and 29 stolen bases during his full seasons from 2005 to 2008. Now Sizemore is trying to come back from tricky microfracture knee surgery. Santana is the future for the Indians. The 24-year-old catcher, one of the top prospects in baseball, is expected to be a major part of the Indians lineup in the coming years.
Detroit Tigers – The most important player for Tigers fans is Miguel Cabrera. He batted .328 with 38 home runs and 126 RBI's, coming second in MVP voting. But in the lead-up to spring training, Cabrera was arrested for driving under the influence. The Tigers need Cabrera to stay focused on baseball if they hope to improve on their .500 record last season.
Kansas City Royals – For the perennial bottom-of-the-standings Royals, Joakim Soria dropping the Mexicutioner nickname was off-season news. But there is reason to be optimistic for the future, as the Royals boast the top farm system in baseball. The Zack Greinke trade hurt the Royals in the short term, but a haul of prospects that featured speedy shortstop Alcides Escobar bodes well for them going forward.
The Twins' hopes ride on the rejuvenated left arm of Francisco Liriano..
Minnesota Twins – The Twins won 94 games in their first season at Target Field and hope to make it deeper into the playoffs after being bounced in the divisional round by the Yankees. For that to happen, they're going to need Francisco Liriano and Joe Mauer, their 27-year-old stars, to be at the top of their games. Liriano won 14 games with a 3.62 era and 201 strikeouts last season. Mauer lost 19 homers and 38 points off his 2009 MVP campaign and will look to recapture his MVP form.
Los Angeles Angels – First baseman Kendrys Morales, who suffered a season-ending injury in May 2010 when he broke his leg celebrating a walk-off home run, hopes to resume baseball activities during the first week of April. Enter Mark Trumbo. The 25-year-old stand-in for Morales mashed his way through spring training, batting .309 with 6 home runs and 20 RBIs. For a player who hit 36 homers to go along with 122 RBIs in Triple-A last year, the numbers look like the real deal. The Angels will also need Dan Haren, Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana to anchor their rotation to beat out the defending AL Champions, the Texas Rangers, this season.
Oakland A’s – The A's season hinges on young starters Trevor Cahill, Bret Anderson and Gio González, who many believe make up one of the top rotations in all of baseball. Anderson and González are considered to have the best stuff out of the group, but Anderson must conquer health issues, while Gonzalez has to be less wild.
Seattle Mariners – Ichiro may be the face of the Mariners, but Felix Hernández, 24, is the most important player for the team. The reigning Cy Young award winner, along with Erik Bedard, who is on the comeback trail with a strong spring, can keep the Mariners in any game. But the team must find a way to score runs. The Mariners finished last in the majors and the American League in offense last season, scoring 3.17 runs per game.
Texas Rangers – The loss of Cliff Lee means the American League champions will need to improve in other areas to make up for his absence. The acquisition of Adrian Beltre (.328 AVG/28 Home Runs/102 RBIs) will only strengthen the Rangers high-powered offense, which finished fifth in all of baseball. Neftali Feliz, the breakout closer, will be back in the role after flirting with being a starter during the spring.
Check out our slideshow of the American League players to watch and look out for the National League Preview tomorrow.