Donald O’Mahony, Staff Writer
Brian T. Chan, Sports Editor

AL East: New York Yankees
The defending champions will be difficult to dethrone this season. Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera are all gone along with a few pitchers from the bullpen. But, as usual, the Yankees did not shy away from new player acquisitions.

They upgraded their pitching staff with Javier Vazquez, who has pitched over 200 innings in five consecutive seasons, finishing second in the 2009 Cy Young voting. They also brought in Curtis Granderson, who hit 30 home runs for the first time in his career last season, to replace Johnny Damon. The key for the Yankees this season will be to find the chemistry they had last year again. With so many changes on the roster, it may be difficult at first. It has become their tendency to get off to a slow start. However, you can count on the Yankees being in a good position at the end of the season.

AL Central: Detroit Tigers
The Tigers have developed one of the best young pitching rotations in baseball. They will count on their young guns to carry them deep into the season once again this year. Justin Verlander can be found on most people’s list for preseason Cy Young candidates and 21-year-old Rick Porcello will look to improve on his 14-win rookie season. The offense should be pretty exciting this year, led by Most Valuable Player candidate Miguel Cabrera.

At first glance, the outfield might look like a Yankees’ spring training lineup. The Tigers received young prospect Austin Jackson as part of the Granderson trade and recently signed Johnny Damon, who had one the best offensive seasons of his career last year. This division will be close, with the Tigers, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins all expected to compete. However, after the Tigers’ meltdown in the late part of last season, they will be motivated to lock up a spot in the playoffs this year.

AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels lost John Lackey to the Boston Red Sox this offseason, but they have made up for the loss. Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana, Scott Kazmir, and Joel Pineiro make up a starting rotation that will be difficult for opposing teams to hit every night.

The Angels also added World Series MVP Hideki Matsui to an already formidable offense. A lot of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of first baseman Kendry Morales. He had a breakout season last year, batting .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBIs. Morales will be expected to repeat his numbers from last season and lead the team to the playoffs once again.

The Seattle Mariners made a big splash this offseason with the Cliff Lee trade and the signing of Chone Figgins, but expect the Angels’ dominance in the West to continue for at least one more season.

AL Wildcard: Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox did well this off-season to bring in some of the best players available. They signed the top free agent pitcher in John Lackey and a great option at third base in Adrian Beltre. Lackey will join Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and a revitalized Daisuke Matsuzaka in a pitching staff that could make many teams feel hopeless.

Beltre and Mike Cameron will join an offense that was less intimidating last year than it was in the years before. The Red Sox will be hoping that David Ortiz can get back to his old ways. They will also be looking to Dustin Pedroia to return to his MVP form from 2008 and challenge the Yankees in the East. The Rays could challenge the Red Sox for the final playoff spot in the American League, but it seems like the Red Sox would have no trouble winning any other division. They are the best bet to win the wildcard in the AL.

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies
Critics may not agree with General Manager Ruben Amaro’s decision to trade Cliff Lee since the Phillies could have potentially had the best 1-2 pitchers in baseball. Nevertheless, the Phillies still have a solid five-man rotation. Some will say that Cole Hamels had a down year when he raised his ERA from 3.09 to 4.32.

Aside from giving up more hits, Hamels’ fielding independent pitching last season was identical to that of 2008. Fans ought not to be skeptic towards Amaro. It is true that the Phillies could have gone into the 2010 season with two, if not three, arsenal arms, but then again, the Phillies are still the team to beat in the National League.

While Amaro picked up one of the best pitchers in the game in Roy Halladay without giving up top prospect Dominic Brown, the Phillies added a few solid prospects from the Lee deal.

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals
Year in and year out, the Cardinals have the best offensive player in baseball, one of the best defensive catchers, and solid pitching. As first baseman Albert Pujols looks to earn his third consecutive Most Valuable Player award, catcher Yadier Molina hopes to win his third consecutive Gold Glove.

Molina, a proven defensive player, has made a positive impact on offense in the last few years. Although Molina does not hit for power, he hit for a respectable average and had relatively high walk-to-strikeout ratio. Last year, Molina led the NL with a .366 on-base percentage.

The offense complements the exceptional pitching of Adam Wainwright. Even though Wainwright has been lucky over the years based on FIP, his numbers had evidently shown that he was becoming more of a premiere pitcher. Wainwright will be a player to watch this season, especially when his effectiveness at breaking balls is added to his repertoire.

NL West: Colorado Rockies
The West division is especially tough when three quality teams would be considered contenders in any other division. While the San Francisco Giants are heavy in pitching and the Los Angeles Dodgers are relatively balanced, the Rockies put forth a robust offense and may even have a better pitching staff than the Dodgers. Jeff Francis, a vital part of the team’s 2007 World Series run, is set to return for the 2010 season.

After having a down year in 2008 and missing all of last season, he will not likely return at the top of the rotation. The hard-throwing Ubaldo Jimenez, a pitcher who ranks among the top five in the NL, will likely occupy the ace position. In the minor leagues, Jimenez walked approximately five batters per nine innings, but in the last few years. He has been able to improve his control while increasing his strikeout rate.

NL Wildcard: San Francisco Giants
General Manager Brian Sabean acquired second baseman Freddy Sanchez, utility man Mark DeRosa, and first baseman Aubrey Huff to solve his team’s past offensive woes. Despite sporting a marginally improved offense, the pitching may just be good enough for the Giants to vault into the postseason.
While he was overshadowed by the no-hitter last season, Jonathan Sanchez enters the 2010 season as a viable mid-to-back-end rotation starter.

The big story coming out of San Francisco will be the 20-year-old prospect Madison Bumgarner. With the Connecticut Defenders last season, Bumgarner saw that Double-A ball posed a challenge as he struck out just 5.8 batters per nine innings (K/9), whereas he had 10.42 and 8.51 K/9 in Single-A and High-A, respectively.

Being a pitcher with pinpoint control, Bumgarner is projected to start in the tail end in 2010, which will only strengthen the Giants’ already top-of-the-line rotation.