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Ranking 'em from top to bottom

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  March 24, 2010 09:03 AM

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Less than two weeks before the start of the 2010 major league season, rosters are being pared. But as Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein would be the first to suggest, it’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.

Still, we all have to start somewhere.

While some roster tinkering still will take place between now and the scheduled April 4 opener between the Sox and Yankees at Fenway Park, most teams will play the first two or three months of the season with essentially their current rosters. The playoff picture in both leagues will not truly start to take shape until the middle of August, when GMs like Epstein will have made maneuvers to address weaknesses and reinforce strengths.

In the interim, with Opening Day now rapidly approaching, here are my MLB power rankings entering 2010:

AMERICAN LEAGUE
1. Yankees. The reigning world champions won 103 games last season, then got a little younger in the lineup (Curtis Granderson) and deeper in the rotation (Javier Vazquez). Until further notice, they remain the team to beat.

2. Red Sox. Let’s be clear: No one ever suggested they’d be bad. What we have said, from Day 1, is that it's questionable how much they have improved. They’ll kill bad and mediocre competition. But what about the good teams?

3. Rays. Good rotation, good lineup, good defense, good bench. As for the bullpen, Tampa went out and acquired closer Rafael Soriano in hopes of stabilizing the bullpen. If everything clicks, it could be 2008 all over again.

4. Twins. Before the Joe Nathan injury, they might very well have cracked the top three. Regardless, they’re still very good. By the way, are any Bostonians still holding out hope that Joe Mauer will be in Boston next year?

5. Angels. So they lost John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero. The Angels might not be as good as they have been in recent years, but they’re still as good as anyone else in the division. Aren’t they?

6. Mariners. The flavor of the month has a fearsome 1-2 punch in Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee at the head of the rotation, but the lineup is devoid of power. That may not matter at Safeco Field. But it will make a difference on the road.

7. White Sox. Now here’s the team that many people may be overlooking. The White Sox have a deep and talented roster, and they play in a soft division. Don’t be surprised if the wild card comes out of the AL Central this year.

8. Tigers. Do you realize that Johnny Damon has been to the postseason six times in the last seven years, the lone exception being 2008? Damon now plays for the Tigers, who seemed to run sideways this offseason. Sideways = mediocre.

9. Rangers. Can’t you just see it now? After an encouraging 2009, the Rangers disappoint in 2010. When Rich Harden gets hurt, inquiring minds will ask manager Ron Washington the obvious question: "When you signed him, were you on drugs?’’

10. Royals. Incredible, isn’t? The Royals had the American League Cy Young Award winner last season (Zack Greinke) and they still won just 65 games. Since 1993, the Royals have one winning season. But at least they have Greinke.

11. A’s. Oakland just hasn’t been the same since breaking up the Big Three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, though the A’s do have some good young pitching. But take a good look at that lineup. Yeesh.

12. Orioles. Oh, they’re getting better, and the lineup actually isn’t half-bad. The O’s might actually climb out of the AL East basement this year, but their pitching is still years away. The Sox, Yanks, and Rays will slaughter them.

13. Blue Jays. Now that Roy Halladay is gone, here’s a question: Who is worth watching on this team? The Jays are going young, and you know what that means. The Red Sox better win every game they can against these guys.

14. Indians. How the mighty have fallen, eh? Slightly more than two years ago, the Indians held a 3-1 lead over the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series. Now they’re dog food. Lots of eyes will be on LeBron James and the Cavs this spring.


NATIONAL LEAGUE
1. Phillies. With two straight World Series appearances, the Phils are now eligible for induction into the AL. On paper, no team beyond the Cardinals even comes close. If the Phils, with new ace Halladay, miss the playoffs, it will be a shock.

2. Cardinals. Late last season, during a period that generally coincided with the arrival of Matt Holliday, the Cardinals went 31-9 over a span of 40 games. They’re not as good as the Phils, but they’re better than everyone else.

3. Rockies. After opening the season 20-32, the Rockies went 72-36 in their next 108 games. That’s a .667 winning percentage. Still, remember that we’re talking about the National League here. It’s a socialistic society beneath the Big 2.

4. Dodgers. Moves or no moves, the Dodgers still have a very good roster. Here’s the question: If the Dodgers tank, will divorcing owners Frank and Jamie McCourt fight for ownership? Or will they fight to dump the team?

5. Giants. We all love the pitching staff. If Aubrey Huff, Mark DeRosa and Freddy Sanchez (acquired late last season) help the offense at all, the Giants could win the West. Intriguing team here. Long live The Freak.

6. Braves. Could be the White Sox of the National League. The Braves tweaked their roster to add some offense, and their pitching staff remains deep despite a relative overhaul. If they stay healthy, they could make a run.

7. Cubs. Remember what the Red Sox were before they won the 2004 World Series? That is what the Cubs are now – a collection of players more than they are a team. If it ever comes together, they could be good. But will it?

8. Reds. Surprised? Don’t be. Reds have made some nice improvements and could be one of the surprise teams in the NL. Nobody is suggesting they’ll win 95 games. But it doesn’t take much to contend for the wild card in the NL, a.k.a. Quadruple A.

9. Mets. OK, so maybe the Mets won’t win it all. But they’re not as bad as everyone thinks, either. David Wright, Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran (when he returns), Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, Francisco Rodriguez. That’s a lot of talent.

10. Marlins. If it looks like a .500 team, smells like a .500 team and tastes like a .500 team … it’s a .500 team. Don’t be fooled by the 87 wins last year. Wishful thinkers: start pining now for Hanley Ramirezs’ return to Boston.

11. Brewers. The fantasy geeks will love the Brewers because Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo, among others, will put up some nice numbers. But know what? The Brewers won’t win much more than they did a year ago, when they went 80-82.

12. Diamondbacks. This assessment comes with the disclaimer that if Brandon Webb returns to form, all bets are off. The problem is that the NL West is competitive and the D’backs aren’t as good as the Rockies, Dodgers or Giants.

13. Astros. Some of us have come to the conclusion that Houston is among the most anonymous teams in the major leagues. The older guys are getting old and the younger guys aren’t getting a lot better. Not a good mix.

14. Padres. For as much ridicule as the Padres endured last season, they ended up with 75 wins, which isn’t that bad. Over-under on the trading of Adrian Gonzalez: July 15. The leader in the clubhouse: the Red Sox.

15. Nationals. Last year, they lost as many games (103) as the Yankees won. So why aren’t they ranked last? Because at least the Nationals have some promise, even with phenom Stephen Strasburg starting in Double A. There is now some good young talent there.

16. Pirates. Oh, the Pirates have some decent young pitchers and some talented young players, but get real. They’ve had 17 straight losing seasons. That isn’t going to change. Isn’t this the worst franchise in baseball?

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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