Thursday, March 31, 2011

Maybin, victory

Cameron Maybin whomping a rolling curveball 420 feet for a home run easily ranks as the most encouraging individual performance from Opening Day for the Padres. Maybin reputedly struggles to "recognize spin," but he drew a bead on Ryan Franklin's 77-mph get-me-over pitch with two outs in the ninth inning.

Will Venable contributed with both his bat and fast feet. In the big leagues, one shouldn't be able to tag up and score on a shallow, high flyball to a strong-armed outfielder with the cleanup man due to bat. Don't tell that to Venable, who applied heat by being observant and fleet of foot. While Cardinals center fielder Colby Rasmus made three or four fundamental mistakes on the flyball (bad angle, flat-footed catch, extra step as if surprised, slow release), Venable punished him by scoring after getting an excellent jump. I couldn't help but think to last year's flap between Rasmus and Cardinals management, from which I took that Rasmus is a talented player who frustrates his baseball elders by lapsing mentally.

That's how a lot of the game went, the Cardinals bungling like they'd spent spring training on Mars, not in Jupiter. The Padres, meanwhile, nailed the fundamentals, notably Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson, who were in peak form defensively.

For so many years, it was Tony La Russa's Cardinals who played the smarter, sounder game when the Padres and St. Louis met. There's no getting around it. The Redbirds were amateurish on Thursday. Obviously it's too early to read much into it. Let's just say the goofs were all too familiar to St. Louis partisans who watched last year's team.

On the flip side, the Padres made their opponent earn the victory. The Padres were the more alert team. They played the cleaner game. Do that, and pressure mounts for your opponent. Sure, it's way too early to see any patterns. We'll merely note that the same M.O. served Bud Black's team well last year. What the Padres didn't have last year was a super-fast center fielder who swatted  lazy curveballs over the center field wall to extend the game.

Opening Day

New season, same prediction. Reprising last March, I see the Padres poking above their Vegas over/under by finishing with 79 victories, ahead of the Garden Snakes. They'll end up tied with the Dodgers, but, because star talent matters, behind the Giants and Rockies. The bullpen will be good, just not ridiculously good like it was last year. The defense should remain a steady asset. Less excellence from the Tattoed One seems likely, but a healthy-looking Aaron Harang can match Jon Garland's 2010. I don't think the Padres will de-pants foes so easily like early last season, "when our running game took advantage of some things other teams were doing," Jerry Hairston Jr. told me. Now dry behind the ears, Chase Headley and Will Venable probably will need to have career years if the Padres are to threaten the Western flag. Who's to say Headley can't be the best third baseman in this division?

I'll be as interested in the fan reactions as the baseball. Since the move downtown, winning seasons have been the norm, but, by and large, attendance has fallen well short of what the Padres had penciled for when they opened Petco Park in 2004.  More so than ever, the Padres are trying to get college students to the ballpark.

With Adrian Gonzalez elsewhere for the first time in six years, the Padres may be less fun to watch than they were last year. Or not.

"Remember when Alex Rodriguez went to Texas and became MVP and the team finished last?" Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman told me. "It's not a one-man game. I love Gonzalez, we're going to miss him, but one man doesn't make a club. It's a team game.  If our three pitchers in the bullpen hold, we're going to be OK."

Coleman, who was a batboy for the San Francisco Seals during the Great Depression,  has seen too many surprises in baseball to write off any potential scenario. Then again, he's still in awe of what the Padres did last year.

"Remember, we still have the same manager," he said. "This guy did one of the best managing jobs I've ever seen, period, and with players that weren't that skilled. The fact that Dusty Baker came within a point for Manager of the Year amazed me. Because I thought the fact that we won 90 games was unbelievably great, and the way Bud Black handled the material was amazing."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What scouts are saying

Welcome to the inaugural Pink Pony Scouts Chat.

Here, major league scouts who've spent the last five weeks at spring training share gleanings about the Padres and other Western teams. Thank you, gentlemen.

The Pink Pony, a steakhouse in Scottsdale, was a Cactus League fixture for decades and is attempting a comeback, so I'm honoring it with no strings attached. Special mention goes to the late Phil Collier, a Pony regular in his days as a Padres beat writer. Phantom, as Phil was known, couldn't have been nicer to me when I was a cub reporter.

A few words about the scouts and their comments below. These men are pro's pros, baseball lifers who appreciate how brutally hard the sport is. They don't mince words, but nor do they take potshots. Harsh opinions are backed up, sometimes off the record. They also admit it when they miss on a player, which they inevitably do. Save two pithy comments here that reinforced what an outside scout said, scouts didn't talk about their own clubs. Be advised, a few salty words pepper their remarks although this is a G-rated site.

PADRES

"Anthony Rizzo has a chance. His swing works."

 "Rizzo is a really, really good-looking young player. He's got a lot of ingredients to be a middle of the lineup guy. He can really play first base. Good get."

"I really like Anthony Rizzo. I think he's going to be a guy and I think he's going to be a guy soon. He didn't play like a kid. He wasn't afraid at all. He swung at strikes. He can run some. He's a good fielder. He was impressive, really impressive."

 "I'm not sold on Rizzo. I think he's going to be a decent big leaguer. His swing is kind of long, kind of reminds me of Adam LaRoche's swing. He's got a good eye, which helps him. He'll be able to hit them out at Petco. Right now, I don't see a short or consistent swing."

 "Cameron Maybin, there's no doubt he can play center field in Petco. He handles the fastball. But you just have to wait and see how much he's going to hit against the breaking ball."

"Maybin, I saw a little more confidence in him. I think he knows the spot is his and he's going to get his 500 at-bats. He looked a little more confident in his jumps. He's good east-west. But he really has trouble breaking back and in. At the plate, he doesn't recognize spin. But, you never know how he's going to be until he gets a chance to play every day."

"(Mike) Adams threw the best of their relievers. (Luke) Gregerson was ordinary."


"Casey Kelly has a good arm, no doubting that. I saw Mat Latos twice. I'd be concerned, man."

 "Simon Castro is overhyped. He's got no feel." ( For what it's worth, Castro was dominant in a minor league game on March 26, striking out five batters to start and clocking up to 97. --Tom Krasovic).

"I don't understand why Wade LeBlanc would be over Cory Luebke unless the Padres are trying to keep Luebke's service time down. It's not even close. Aaron Harang's stuff is just fine. He got hit around, but I like him."

"I was impressed by Casey Kelly. I liked his poise, I like the fact that he attacked the zone. He had a clean delivery, strike one, good downhill plane, three pitches for strikes. I think he should be a nice middle of the rotation guy."

"Cameron Maybin is not much of a hitter. You'd take (Blake) Tekotte over Maybin if you're just looking at them swing the bat and didn't know anything about them."

"James Darnell is healthy and pounding the ball, has big power. (Donavan) Tate has a lot of talent. (Jaff) Decker is in outstanding shape. He can really, really hit, just natural, generates serious batspeed."

"(Brad) Hawpe's swing looks pretty good. His at-bats are really good actually. He's a little shaky on some groundballs. (Ernesto) Frieri looks OK, not great. (Chad) Qualls looks good, fastball down and has good sink, 92 (mph)."

"Latos, I've never seen him so bad. But you don't know how he'll do. He supposedly didn't feel any (shoulder soreness) after the outing, then felt it two days later. If he gets pissed off, he'll throw 95 (mph). He's been missing east, west, up and down. His front side is opening up. He's battling his mechanics. Maybe the sore shoulder takes some pressure of him to be the No. 1 guy."

"Latos is a No. 1. He's a stud. He'll be fine. He's ornery. He has good enough stuff that he's fine. They've got great pitching coaches. They'll keep him straight ahead. That's a premium guy."

"Harang threw a lot better than I'd seen him in the last three years."

"Casey Kelly was OK. He's got a nice curveball. Nice, easy motion. Fluid. Has a chance to be a nice No. 3."

"I think the Padres are in trouble. I like (Orlando) Hudson and (Jason) Bartlett up the middle. The Padres, I think offensively they're going to really struggle. Without that stud (Adrian Gonzalez) in the middle, it can really wear on everybody else. They have to have stellar pitching. They might need Luebke or Castro to step up."

"I think the Giants and Rockies are the class of the division. I think the Padres have a chance to finish ahead of the Dodgers in third."

"The Padres, the way they do things, this team fits their mold. They're not going to hit a bunch of home runs and they know it. They got away from that maybe when they got (Miguel) Tejada and (Ryan) Ludwick, and maybe got away from their style, scratching and biting. They scratch. They hit and run. They do the things that they need to do. And I think they'll be a better defensive team than they were."

FORMER PADRES

 "(Adam) Russell and (Edward) Mujica aren't throwing good. Mujica's velocity is a little down, hasn't been throwing the splitty. He's a veteran, maybe he's just building for the season. Chris Young (who will start for the Mets) actually looked OK. Velocity wasn't what it was a few years ago, but he actually pitched pretty good. It's still enough with the deception."

 "Leo Nunez is the Florida closer. He should be the Florida setup guy. Because Ryan Webb is going to be the closer. Not to start with. Webb pounds the strike zone. And that bowling ball he throws up there is heavy and shattering bats. Chris Young needs to get his arm strength back but his mechanics are OK. It's 85-88 but the deception is still there and the late life is still there. His breaking ball got better each time."

"I'm all about trading relievers for everyday position players, but I think the Padres are going to regret trading Ryan Webb."

"Let's see how those relievers (Webb, Mujica) do now that they're out of Petco."

"Ryan Webb, the only thing with him is a matter of confidence. He doesn't believe in himself yet. He will, because the stuff is so good. Is he a closer? Doesn't have a strikeout pitch, really. But he's going to pitch in the back of the 'pen."

DODGERS

"The Dodgers have become old and slow. They have some pitching depth."

"I think they're going to be offensively challenged, and defensively challenged. The other day, (shortstop Rafael) Furcal was 4.9 running down the line, third baseman bobbles the ball and he's still out in plenty of time. Saw (Matt) Kemp misplay two balls in the same game recently. He looks terrible in center field. Kenley Jansen is pretty damn impressive."

"They should move Kemp out of center."

"Furcal is not the athlete he once was. There's no question about that. As a runner, he's not anything like he was. He's a decent shortstop. I think Kemp will have a good year as far as home runs and run production. He's not a great center fielder. His attitude was better than last year."

"(Jonathan) Broxton does not throw 99 anymore. He throws 94, 95. He's plenty good. If Broxton comes back, the bullpen can be very good."

"(Rubby) De La Rosa, I don't know whether he's going to be a starter or reliever. The arm is about as good as anybody's in Arizona. He doesn't get good arm extension, but his arm is good. If this guy stays healthy, in a year or so he should be a big help for the Dodgers."

"De La Rosa has a huge arm and a plus changeup. The only thing he doesn't have is an average breaking ball, so as a right-hander does he end up in the bullpen?"

"De La Rosa is going to be outstanding."

"I think De La Rosa can pitch there right now and he'd be fine. He was up to 97 and good angle to plate, good feel for changeup, and I think the breaking ball will come. I think this guy's a starter, and I don't think he's far away."

"Dee Gordon is still young and skinny. He has all kinds of ability. Athletically, he's like Cameron Maybin. Very good athlete. (Jerry) Sands, I never saw him pull the ball. His balls were all to right center and center, the deepest part of the park. But he's strong. There ain't no doubt about that."

"I like Xavier Paul more than the Dodgers do and would keep him over (Jay) Gibbons or (Tony) Gwynn Jr. Paul needs a change of scenery. His bat is OK. He has a good swing and can run the ball down. Hector Gimenez is a just a good-looking hitter. I'd take him as a backup. Ivan DeJesus, he's stayed inside the ball well. Sands, I like his bat. He has a really nice swing. He looks OK in left field."

"Rod Barajas is a backup catcher and he's going to have to start. He''ll hit a home run, but he moves in slow motion."

"(Juan) Uribe is heavy and his legs are bothering him. He looks more comfortable on the left side of the field than at second."

"I think they're going to be battling it out for third place with the Padres, and the Padres know how to play better."

"They could be a disaster with all of the ifs."

DIAMONDBACKS

"The lefty (Tyler) Skaggs -- outstanding. Really good. Right now, today, Skaggs is better than (Jarrod) Parker. He has some power to his pitches. Good tempo. Confident. Power curveball."

"They're blocking too many young guys with old guys. (Xavier) Nady looks bad. Still can't get his foot down. Swing is long, slow."

"Skaggs--very good makeup. Had two really impressive outings for me. He's probably ahead of Parker now, but so much of this game is what have you done lately."

"Skaggs is Arizona's best pitching prospect. Has a chance to be a No. 1 or 2. Up to 93. Plus curve, plus changeup."

"Joe Saunders has been awful. So that trade with the Angels could come down to (Dan) Haren for Skaggs and the money (Haren's salaries)."

"I actually think Ian Kennedy is under-rated. Solid No. 3 starter."

"(Justin) Upton is healthy. He's going to see a lot of crappy pitches. Will he walk? I don't know."

"Diamondbacks look terrible. Absolutely awful. Not only are they not talented, they're playing very poorly. They're bad, they're so bad."

GIANTS

"(Brandon) Belt, he's not afraid to hit with two strikes. He stays back real good. He doesn't lunge. He has pretty good strike zone recognition."

"In high school Brandon Belt was blocked off as a hitter, closed up. Not now. Great hitter's hands."

"Belt is really going to be a player. He swung the bat great the days I was there. He hit the ball hard all over the park. Hits the ball really hard to left center. I think he's a 20-plus home run guy and should hit for a good average. Keep him at first base."

"(Second baseman Charlie) Culberson is going to be a solid big league player in a few years."

"Francisco Pegeuro looks like a young Sammy Sosa. Big swing but has got power and can run and throw."

"Kung Fu Panda looked great. Lost a lot of weight and has some range now."

"Shortstop looks like it could be a problem with (Miguel) Tejada. Brandon Crawford is not the answer for me, I think he's more of a second baseman. (Ehire) Adrianza can play short. You hit the ball to him and you're out. It happens easy. When he dives, he catches the ball. The hands are like Omar Vizquel's."

"I think they've got to hold on to Nate Schierholtz. He's OK. I'd take him over (Pat) Burrell. I'm not a big (Mark) DeRosa guy. He just looked sluggish."

"(Aaron) Rowand, everyone knows, has really slowed down in the field and with the bat."

"Funny, the Giants are built better for the short run than the long run. I think it'll be harder for them to win the division than to make a run in the playoffs. It's going to be a struggle to score runs."

"I saw a team that had a swagger to them and looked lot more confident than last year, like they were out to prove they weren't a fluke last year."

ROCKIES

"The Rockies are good. I think they're the best team in the division."

"(Lefty) Rex Brothers has the big arm. Throws good strikes. Just a reliever but 95-96 on the gun with good plane."

"Ian Stewart looks healthy. (Dexter) Fowler is working on his bunting, which is good, but it still looks like he can be easily attacked."

"I think they have problems at closer."

"(Catcher Wilin) Rosario, I guess he hurt is knee, but he can really throw. He's kind of a wild swinger. He's got tools along the lines of Miguel Olivo."

MARINERS

"The most interesting thing I saw all spring was the rebirth of Erik Bedard. His curveball, it's a bastard. Sometimes an 80 (on the 20-80 scouting scale)."

"Bedard pitched good. He's not as good as he once was. His stuff is plenty good to win games. His arm's not quite as high. The curve doesn't have the quickness at times that it used to have. But he's plenty good. He should keep them in games."

"Justin Smoak, there's not a lot of click in there. I see a guy whose development curve got retarded, both in Texas and Seattle now. There was a rush to judgment."

"Smoak did not do much for me. Smoak did not make good contact at all. I'm sure if he hits the ball, he's got power."

"Dustin Ackley, he's got a magic wand. He can hit."

"Ackley, he hits like he wants to be a leadoff hitter. He's not aggressive. He will be a good offensive player.  But Ackley, the attitude he gave off was, I'm not going to make the club, why should I bust my ass? I don't know if that's how he felt, but that's how he played. He's so-so at second, he needs a lot of work there."

"Milton Bradley looks good."

With Franklin Gutierrez a DL candidate, Michael Saunders might open the season on the roster. Mariners hitting coach Chris Chambliss (Oceanside High) and manager Eric Wedge worked with Saunders to retool his preswing, which now resembles that of Adrian Gonzalez, an adjustment that the Padres' Will Venable also made in spring training. 

 "Saunders looks good in a uniform," a scout said. "And he hit the ball at the end against mediocre ptiching. I wouldn't go out on a limb and say he's a regular."

"Their team should be a little better than last year."

ANGELS

"Peter Bourjos played really well. Amazing in center field. An 80 runner, 80 center fielder."

"(Bourjos) was more confident at the plate than any time with the Angels last year."

"Brandon Wood needs a change of scenery but it sounds like they're going to keep him because of the injuries. If they put him on waivers, I have little doubt that the Pirates would claim him. He still can play third, and he can play shortstop."

"Howie Kendrick kept hitting rockets to right field. I think he's going to hit .300 this year."

"Mark Trumbo had an unbelievable camp. Erick Aybar was inconsistent with the bat and the glove."

ETC.

"The Royals have some young talent. (Lefty pitcher Mike) Montgomery and (first baseman Eric) Hosmer -- the two best young guys I saw this spring. They could be the real deal."

"The Royals' Montgomery has Cole Hamels written all over him."

"The Washington club, oh, they have really good athletes. And, they have really good young arms.They're going to take their lumps early, but I think after the All-Star break they're going to be really good."

"Jim Riggleman (a former Padres manager) is the absolutely perfect guy for that Washington club. He's a teacher. Rigs came up in the St. Louis organization and he learned from Mr. George Kissell, and you don't say George Kissell. You say Mr. George Kissell, he was the architect of the Cardinal Way."

"(Marlins outfielder) Mike Stanton is a beast. He hit one like 30 feet farther than (Mark) McGwire ever hit one in Jupiter."

"(Second baseman) Danny Espinosa (Orange County's Mater Dei High) of the Nationals is going to be a good player."

"Manny Banuelos of the Yankees is outstanding. He is really, really good, 82-93, and a changeup from hell. And, he looks like he's been pitching 10 years in the big leagues."

"I'm apalled by some of the non-roster pitching that kept getting to the mound this spring. But, that's where the game is right now."

"Watching the split-squad games, it just shows the lack of pure major league players there really are."

"Spring training is about information gathering, it's not about evaluation. When in doubt, you'd better consult the back of the baseball card."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What's next?

What did scouts glean from watching the Padres and other teams in the Cactus League? Check here on Monday. We'll also have word on a few former Padres.

Friday, March 25, 2011

When easy is hard

My wife has the best handwriting in the world. Line after line of perfection flows from her graceful hand. With similar nonchalance my friend Jeff can bounce a golf ball off a sand wedge for several minutes, even when he's agitated. I'm not easily impressed, but these actions impress me. When someone makes something look easy that isn't easy, be impressed.

Take the Padres and their front five starting pitchers last year. Each did his job well enough that Bud Black continued to hand him the ball. And all five stayed healthy enough to start at least 25 games. It was almost boring. Seemed easy, too. Doubly impressed, I was intrigued, so I researched the last time the Padres had five pitchers start 25 games. The answer: Never. In 42 seasons, the most was four pitchers each starting 25, and that happened only eight times.

Stability isn't without its drawbacks, you might say, and you could be right. Maybe Black should've subbed Tim Stauffer for Kevin Correia sooner, which would've meant fewer than 25 starts for Correia (UPDATE: The Pirates, heading for a 19th consecutive losing season, have named Correia as their Opening Day starter). The larger point: The Padres had an exceptionally stable rotation last year after losing their nominal No. 1 starter, Chris Young, when his surgical shoulder, to no one's surprise, acted up. Seems reasonable to expect more drama within the rotation this year. For a team built on pitching, that's not a comforting prospect.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Utopia?

San Diego State in the Sweet Sixteen? That can't seem fair to folks in cold climes where basketball is lifeblood and winter is only now receding. "The city of San Diego, it's already perfect," Aztecs assistant coach Brian Dutcher told me on Selection Sunday. "I guess if we could make a deep run, we could make it a utopia." As I wrote here last week, San Diego's sports teams usually fizzle in the postseason, the Padres without a victorious playoff series since 1998 and the Chargers without an AFC title since 1995. The Aztecs, for their part, had gone 0-6 in the NCAAs until they defeated Northern Colorado (Vincent Jackson U) last week. A victory over Connecticut on Thursday, a few blocks from Disneyland, would be SDSU's 35th win this season and third in these NCAAs. The last time SDSU won three consecutive games in a national tourney? The same year that San Diego's Ted Williams batted .406  -- 1941, when five triumphs took the Aztecs to the NAIA championship.

A search of Google News shows 4,203 stories on San Diego State basketball for the last month. Publicity windfalls like that could boost recruiting for a program that not long ago was an afterthought in its own backyard. Then again, now is the time for the Aztecs to be greedy. Sweet Sixteen chances are precious, especially those only 94.2 miles from home against a name opponent that traveled cross country. SDSU can defend and rebound well enough to stay with Connecticut, perhaps more so if the referees aren't treating UConn star Kemba Walker like he's Michael Jordan, as one opposing coach recently quipped. Yet, offensive dysfunction similar to what plagued SDSU against Temple would be too much to overcome. An Aztecs offense that asserts Kawhi Leonard closer to the basket could be the ticket to SDSU's first win in 13 games vs. a Big East team and a date with Duke or Arizona on Saturday.

Dutcher knows Sweet Sixteen success -- a 4-0 mark as an assistant to Aztecs head coach Steve Fisher with Michigan. And although SDSU entered these NCAAs without a March pedigree, optimism wasn't in short supply. "They're confident that they're going to be able to make a run in this tournament," Dutcher said then. "Whether that's a reality or not, I don't know. But the key is, they believe they will. Nothing great ever happens unless you have a little moxie and belief, and the players and coaches believe in this team."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Springing forward

We're inside two weeks to Opening Day. How are the rosters shaping up? Who's still in the training room? What storylines emerged in spring training?

Below, you'll find answers. Not all of the answers, mind you. Nor all of the teams, either, but plenty of answers and plenty of teams. Teams are listed alphabetically after the Padres. Owing to a server crash, you'll need to scroll to the bottom to find the Tigers and Royals.

A big thank you goes to the 20-plus beat writers and national writers who provided reports. A few quick reactions: Wow, the little Twins are spending big. Whoever owns the Mariners isn't getting his money's worth. And, maybe the Phillies didn't lock up the East when they signed Cliff Lee last winter.

PADRES


Lineup: RF Will Venable, SS Jason Bartlett, 2B Orlando Hudson, LF Ryan Ludwick, 1B Brad Hawpe, 3B Chase Headley, C Nick Hundley, CF Cameron Maybin.

Rotation: Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, Aaron Harang, Tim Stauffer, Wade LeBlanc OR Cory Luebke OR Dustin Moseley.

Bullpen: Heath Bell (closer),  Mike Adams, Luke Gregerson, Chad Qualls, Joe Thatcher, Ernesto Frieri, Moseley.

Bench:  2B/PF Eric Patterson,  1B Jorge Cantu, OF Chris Denorfia, C Rob Johnson, INF Kevin Frandsen (Padres are shopping for a backup middle infielder and might keep a third catcher through early April).

Payroll: $45 million

Good news from spring training: Headley is hitting the ball hard from both sides of the plate, Hundley is showing more leadership, Venable appears comfortable since modeling his preswing after Adrian Gonzalez.

Concerns from camp: Thatcher hasn't thrown in a game because of a balky shoulder that led to an MRI and could put him on the DL. The depth at catcher and in the middle infield needs firming. More on Latos later, but his poor results this month, which may or may not be relevant, come one season after more innings thrown than the Padres would've preferred.

Key injuries: Thatcher (shoulder), Frieri (shoulder).

Why Padres can win the West: Strong run prevention similar to what drove the 90-win season in 2010, a versatile offense that benefits from bounce-back years by veterans, prospects such as Casey Kelly move the clock forward.

Why Padres can't win West: No Adrian, Tattoed One regresses, other West teams are more attuned to Padres than last year, starting rotation and bullpen doesn't match great health of 2010.

Manager's record with team: Bud Black is 319-330 over four seasons. His teams finished, in order, third, fifth, fourth and second.

Player who has to step up: Ludwick. He batted .211 with six home runs and 57 strikeouts in 59 games last year after joining the Padres in the pennant race. Some other clubs expressed surpise that the Padres didn't non-tender him.

New name: Harang. He's a San Diego guy who's hoping that Petco Park, better health and pitching coach Darren Balsley will restore him as a frontline pitcher.

ANGELS

Lineup: Not that easy to answer. First plan would be: 3B Maicer Izturis, DH Bobby Abreu, RF Torii Hunter, 1B Kendrys Morales, LF Vernon Wells, 2B Howie Kendrick, SS Erick Aybar, C Jeff Mathis/Bobby Wilson, CF Peter Bourjos.

But Morales is almost certain to open the season on the DL (and then at DH for awhile after that). If he does, Mark Trumbo has a good shot to make the team.

Rotation: Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro, Scott Kazmir

Bullpen: Fernando Rodney, Kevin Jepsen, Hisanori Takahasi, Jordan Walden, Rich Thompson, Michael Kohn, Jason Bulger. Reliever Scott Downs (broken toe) will open the season the DL. When he’s ready, Thompson or Bulger goes out.

Bench: Backup catcher (Wilson or Mathis), IF Alberto Callaspo, OF Reggie Willits, IF Brandon Wood.

Payroll: $138 million (after deducting $5 million from Toronto in Vernon Wells trade)

Good news:  Trumbo has looked terrific. Led minors with 36 HR last season (tied with Moustakas) and hit well in winter ball. Went into March 17 with five HR and 13 RBI in spring  and a 1.144 OPS. With Morales slow to recover from last year’s broken ankle, Trumbo might have played his way into the Opening Day roster/lineup.

Concerns: When will Morales be ready? Missed last 111 games of 2010 season with broken ankle and has been slow to progress this spring. Looks great in batting practice but has yet to run the bases in workouts or play in game. Angels have targeted this weekend to get him in games if he’s going to be ready for Opening Day. He doesn’t look close.

Key injuries: Lefty reliever Downs broke a bone in the big toe on his left foot. That takes a key piece of the bullpen out of the picture to start the season. Scott Kazmir spent three months this winter in Arizona going through a conditioning and throwing program at the Angels’ minor-league complex. So far, he looks like the same erratic, high-80s mph lefty who went 9-15 with a 5.94 ERA last season.

Why Angels can win the West: Weaver-Santana-Haren-Pineiro give the Angels a strong and deep starting rotation. It’s an area they feel they have a clear advantage over the Rangers. They addressed a huge weakness from 2010 by reworking their outfield defense with Wells in left, Bourjos in center and Hunter in right.

Why Angels can't win the West: The offense still looks short – particularly if Morales’ return is delayed and his production doesn’t return to 2009 levels.

Manager's record: Mike Scioscia enters his 12th season as Angels manager, longest tenured manager in AL, second to Tony LaRussa in majors. 980-802 (.550), five AL West titles, one World Series. With 20 wins, Scioscia will become the 23rd manager in baseball history with 1000 victories for one team.

Player who has to step up: How 'bout Maicer Izturis? The Angels are counting on the oft-injured infielder to be part of the solution in two areas of weakness – third base and leadoff hitter.

New name: Bourjos. The Angels think so highly of this speedster’s defensive abilities that they moved 12 Gold Gloves (nine for Hunter, three for Wells) out of center field and into the corner outfield spots. But Bourjos must hit enough to justify keeping his defense in the lineup. He hit just .204 in a two-month big-league baptism last season.

ASTROS

Lineup: CF Michael Bourn, SS Clint Barmes, RF Hunter Pence, LF Carlos Lee, 3B Chris Johnson, 1B Brett Wallace, 2B Bill Hall, C Humberto Quintero/J.R. Towles

Rotation: Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Bud Norris, Nelson Figueroa or LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith.

Bullpen: Brandon Lyon,Wilton Lopez, Fernando Abad, Jeff Fulchino, Mark Melancon, Enerio Del Rosario.

Bench: OF Jason Michaels, INF Tommy Manzella, OF Jason Bourgeosis, INF Angel Sanchez.

Payroll: $82 million.

Good news: That Wallace had a great spring at the plate. The Astros are so confident that he'll hit in the big leagues that they told Lance Berkman no thanks this winter. He didn't hit last season. So far, so good this season.

Concerns: Not enough power. They hit 108 homers last season, 80 fewer than Cincinnati and 12 fewer than the Dodgers (who were next to last). They signed Bill Hall and Clint Barmes for more pop in the middle infield, but need big years from Chris Johnson, Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence.

Key injuries: C Jason Castro out for season with ACL. He was the first draftee of Bobby Heck (No. 1 pick Stanford 2008) and the guy who represented this new generation of Astros.

Why Astros can win the Central: If the rotation is solid, if they don't have injuries, if everything goes right, they can contend. However, this in truth is a transition year.

Manager's record with team: Brad Mills, 76-86

Player who has to step up: Wallace could really help the offense. He hit .222 in 51 games last season, but has hit at every level of the minors and in college.

New name: Reliever Enerio Del Rosario came from nowhere to win a spot on the team with a great spring.

ATHLETICS

Lineup: CF Coco Crisp, 1B Daric Barton,  RF David DeJesus, DH Hideki Matsui,  LF Josh Willingham, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, C Kurt Suzuki, 2B Mark Ellis, SS Cliff Pennington.

Rotation: Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, Brandon McCarthy (note: Gonzalez currently lines up for Opening Night but not considered No. 1 starter and not yet named Opening Night starter)

Bullpen: Andrew Bailey (closer), Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes, Craig Breslow, Brad Ziegler, Jerry Blevins, Tyson Ross

Bench: OFs Ryan Sweeney and Conor Jackson, C Landon Powell, INF Eric Sogard

Payroll: $70 million

Good news: Mostly good health, and the one big injury of potential significance turned out to be relatively OK: Bailey came off the mound holding his elbow (he had a cleanup surgery in Sept) and went to see Dr. Andrews, but it was scar tissue tearing and he'll miss days, not weeks, he says with a forearm strain. Young starters continue to look good, especially potential Opening Night starter Gonzalez. Crisp has hit up a storm, over .400 despite an early spring suspected DUI arrest.

Concerns: New additions DeJesus, Willingham, Matsui haven't had great springs at the plate. Bailey's health better than feared but still must be a bit a concern (though rest of bullpen competent and lots of depth). Craig Breslow (hamstring) won't appear in game until final week in Arizona.

Key injuries: Bailey, Breslow. Michael Wuertz missed a week or so with minor shoulder tendinitis but is pitching in games. Rich Harden hasn't thrown off the mound since Feb 15 because of a lat strain. Backup infielder Adam Rosales hasn't participated because of offseason foot surgery and a mid-May return is starting to look like a stretch because he still cannot run.

Why A's can win the West: Good young rotation and strong bullpen, and solid defense.

Why A's can't win the West: Offense is better than last season but still not all that fearsome.

Manager's record with team: Bob Geren, 307-340.

Player who has to step up: Crisp has to stay healthy, if that counts as stepping up. He's a major key on offense and defense.

New name: Might not be one, but Chris Carter could be back up at some point.

BLUE JAYS

Lineup: CF Rajai Davis, SS Yunnel Escobar, 3B Jose Bautista, 1B Adam Lind (this will be interesting), 2B Aaron Hill, LF Travis Snider, RF Juan Rivera, Edwin Encarnacion, C J.P. Arencibia (who can hit, but can't catch);

Rotation: Rickey Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Jesse Litsch. Kyle Drabek is probably ready but they will likely send him out. Only two starts in first month, although they are saying Morrow will be given the extra day to protect his arm/innings total.

Bullpen: Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, David Purcey plus two of Octavio Dotel, Carlos Villeneuva, Casey Janssen.

Bench: Jose Molina, INF John McDonald, Cory Patterson, Mike McCoy.

Payroll: $65 million

Good news: Brett Lawrie, 20, has impressed at third base. He has hit and has not gotten as flummoxed on ground balls as he did as a Brewer. The easy solution is to keep Lawrie and flip Bautista to RF, where he wants to be.

Concerns: Bautista ... can he hit 54? 44? ... Jays will take 30 HR. Arencibia, can he catch? He's not hitting either. Can Lind play first base? He can pick balls in the dirt, but early he was a mess on ground balls.

Key injuries: Hill hurt his quad and, as of March 18, still had not played in a game. He DH'd in a B game March 17 but has not gone full-out. Snider hurt his side which was a big deal for a few days because they lied about it, and Snider said, "Oh yeah, I hurt it on the golf course."

Why Jay can't win East: They do not have the pop they had last year. Goodbye Vernon Wells (although they did save $81 million), John Buck, Alex Gonzalez who opened the season at shortstop. They will miss Scott (Help, I've fallen and I can't get up) Downs.

Manager's record with team: John Farrell -- undefeated, untied, untried. 0-0.

Player who has to step up: Arencibia.

New name: John Farrell, Rauch. Whoever wins, or, rather, starts off with the closer's job.

BRAVES

Lineup: LF Martin Prado, CF Nate McLouth, 3B Chipper Jones, C Brian McCann, 2B Dan Uggla, RF Jason Heyward, SS Alex Gonzalez, 1B Freddie Freeman.

Rotation: Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor or Brandon Beachy

Bullpen: Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel, Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty, George Sherrill, Scott Linebrink….and someone like Cristhian Martinez or Scott Proctor in final slot.

Projected bench: 1B/LF Eric Hinske, Utility Joe Mather, C David Ross, and some combination of two from 2B/3B Brooks Conrad, SS Diory Hernandez, OF Wilken Ramirez, SS Ed Lucas, and OF Matt Young. (Braves are still looking for power righty off the bench. If I had to guess for now at two spots, maybe Conrad and Hernandez).

Payroll: $85-$90 million

Good news: Chipper Jones hasn’t had any significant setbacks in his return from ACL surgery and is on pace to return Opening Day. Nate McLouth has actually been hitting.

Concerns: Heyward has had a series of nagging injuries (groin, stiff back), both of which the Braves consider minor, but he’s missed seven games so far in spring. The back of the Braves bullpen is young, with either rookie Kimbrel or second-year guy Venters taking over closing duties for the first time.

Key injuries: Luis Salazar, Braves manager for Class A Lynchburg, was struck in the face by a Brian McCann foul ball and lost his left eye. The injury was first feared to be life-threatening but Salazar avoided brain damage, despite losing consciousness and falling face-first to the dugout floor after he was hit.

Why Braves can win win the East: Uggla adds the punch this lineup needed, McLouth returns to the form of his All-Star days with the Pirates, and the Braves don’t have the rash of injuries they had down the stretch last season (Jones, Prado).

Why Braves can’t win the East: Phillies live up to billing with their historic rotation and the Braves’ rotation, while solid, can’t keep pace, and the Braves can’t recreate the chemistry that saw them win 25 games in their final at-bat last season to lead the majors.

Manager's record: Fredi Gonzalez is in his first season as Braves manager. He went 276-279 in 3 ½ seasons with the Marlins. They finished fifth in 2007, third in 2008, second in 2009 and fourth in 2010, when he was fired after 104 games.

Player who has to step up: McLouth. The center fielder the Braves traded more in June of 2009 fell totally flat last year, not hitting from Day 1 of spring training, and only .190 on the season. He spent a month in Triple-A trying to regain his form before showing some signs of recovery in September (hitting .263 with 10 RBI). He’s hitting .346 in spring training through Wednesday.

New name: Freeman. The Braves turn over the first base job to rookie Freeman, who they hope can follow in the footsteps of his best friend and fellow 21-year-old Jason Heyward and make a seamless transition to the majors, while giving the Braves some consistent production from what’s been a black hole of late at first base.

BREWERS

Lineup: 2B Rickie Weeks, CF Carlos Gomez, LF Ryan Braun, 1B Prince Fielder, 3B Casey McGehee, LF Mark Kotsay, SS Yuniesky Betancourt, C Jonathan Lucroy.
 Note: RF Corey Hart (left oblique strain) doesn't appear to have enough time to get ready for the season's start. Lucroy is recovering from a broken finger and might not make. If not, C Wil Nieves probably will be plugged in.

Rotation: Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, Chris Narveson,Wily Peralta. Note: "Air" Greinke was supposed to be the No. 1 starter but cracked a rib playing basketball. Peralta is 21 and has eight starts at the Double-A level. Marcum came out of his last start with shoulder tightness and now is questionable for season's start.

Bullpen:RHP John Axford (closer), Takashi Saito, Zack Braddock, Kameron Loe, Sean Green, Mitch Stetter. Note: LaTroy Hawkins is recovering from shoulder surgery and thinks he can get ready for season's start but I'm guessing he'll just miss.

Bench: INF Craig Counsell, C George Kottaras, INF Luis Cruz, OF/1B Mark Kotsay,
OF Chris Dickerson

Payroll: $90 million

Good news: 2B Rickie Weeks signed a four-year extension with a fifth-year vesting option that could max out at $50 million at the outset of camp.

Concerns: An injury-thinned starting rotation and bullpen; Betancourt's sloppy defense, the catching situation if Lucroy doesn't continue a speedy recovery.

Key injuries: Zack Greinke (cracked rib), Hart (strained left oblique), Jonathan Lucroy (broken right pinkie).

Why Brewers can win the Central: Surely, they're using up all of their injuries in spring training, right?

Why Brewers can't win the Central: Too much was expected after the additions of Greinke and Marcum, ignoring the team's flaws.

Manager's record: Ron Roenicke is in his first year with the Brewers.

Player who has to step up: CF Gomez has been a career offensive underachiever. This might be his last chance to prove he can play regularly.

New name: RHP Wily Peralta might be forced into the rotation at 21 with only eight games above the Class A level.
 
CARDINALS

Lineup: SS Ryan Theriot, CF Colby Rasmus, 1B Albert Pujols, LF Matt Holliday, RF Lance Berkman, 3B David Freese, C Yadier Molina, 2B Skip Schumaker.

Rotation: Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, Kyle McClellan.

Bullpen: Ryan Franklin (closer), Mitchell Boggs, Jason Motte, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, Fernando Salas, Miguel Batista.

Bench: C Gerald Laird, INF Tyler Greene, OF Jon Jay, OF Allen Craig, INF Matt Carpenter or INF Daniel Descalso.

Payroll: $105 to $110 million

Good news: David Freese, who had two ankle surgeries last year, seemed to be moving well and was hitting with power; Lohse was having no discomfort from the forearm problems he had the last two years and was throwing hard.

Concerns: How to make up for Adam Wainwright's 20 wins and can Lance Berkman really play right field -- or have any pop left in his bat?

Key injuries: Wainwright out for the year after Tommy John elbow surgery.

Why Cardinals can't win the Central: Berkman can't play; a potential falloff by Garcia, one of the best rookies in the league last year but disappointing this spring; if Freese can't play third base in an everyday capacity; possibly suspect defense in RF (Berkman) and at SS (Ryan Theriot, limited range), and, of course, not having an All-Star pitcher in Wainwright.

Manager's record: Tony La Russa, third on all-time wins list with 2,638 wins. He also has 2,293 losses. He is starting his 16th season with the Cardinals.

Player who has to step up: It's time for Rasmus to be a star. He should hit 25-30 homers and, most importantly, he needs to be more consistent in his defensive play.

New name: It's an old name. Carpenter, as in third baseman Matt Carpenter, easily the most impressive rookie in camp. He is trying to make the jump from Class AA and La Russa likes his lefthanded bat, his work ethic and his ability to play both third and the outfield. It would help if he could play second bae, too, but haven't seen it.

CUBS
Lineup: RF Kosuke Fukudome, SS Starlin Castro, 1B Carlos Pena, 3B Aramis Ramirez, CF, Marlon Byrd, C Geovany Soto, LF Alfonso Soriano, 2B Blake DeWitt/Jeff Baker.

Rotation: Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Garza, Randy Wells, Andrew Cashner (Carlos Silva and Braden Looper haven’t been ruled out).

Bullpen: Carlos Marmol (closer), Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood. Others: Todd Wellemeyer seems safely situated, as does Looper if he doesn’t make the rotation. John Grabow will get the benefit of the doubt if his surgically repaired knee holds up. The rest of the bullpen depends on whether Silva is bumped here or released (which would cost Cubs $8 million) and if Mike Quade can trust Jeff Samardzija.

Bench: OF Tyler Colvin, INF DeWitt/Baker, C Koyie Hil (prospect Welington Castillo is still pushing for the job), INF Darwin Barney, OF/PH/PR from group that includes Reed Johnson, Fernando Perez, Lou Montanez, Bryan LaHair and Matt Camp (whose value is increased because he plays everywhere except catcher).

Payroll: $139 million ($134 million expenditure counting in what Seattle pays on Carlos Silva’s contract).

Good news: The back of the bullpen seems very strong. Zambrano has been solid this spring after finishing 2010 on a roll (two years left on his contract). Aramis Ramirez (club option for 2012) is in shape, working with Rudy Jaramillo and determined to become a good player again.

Concerns: This is a thin roster with few players in their prime. The lineup looks to the .196-hitting Pena, the .241-hitting Ramirez and the .258-hitting Soriano (who still has four years left on his deal). The rotation is a bigger question mark than it’s been in years, with Dempster and newcomer Matt Garza the only known commodities.

Key injuries: None.

Why Cubs can win the Central: Career years from all their over-the-hill players and somehow continue to win at the level they did after Mike Quade took over down the stretch, when their No. 1 accomplishment was knocking San Diego out of the playoffs.

Why Cubs can't win the Central: They don’t catch the ball, and you’ll have to go a ways to find a left side weaker than one with Ramirez at third and Soriano in left field. They’re also very shaky in second base and can count on another 25-plus errors from Castro at short (but at least he gets some tough outs).

Manager's record: Quade is in his first full season as a big-league manager, getting the job over Ryne Sandberg because he put together a 24-13 finish with a team that had quit on Lou Piniella.

Play who has to step up: Ramirez was lost at times in the first half of last season, and didn’t seem to care until Lou Piniella was shown the door. He has had a good spring and does seem inclined to try but how much does he have left?

New guy: GM Hendry believes Garza can become a No. 1 but he was rarely more than a No. 3 with the Rays and Twins. He’s had a shaky spring but promises to be “ready when the bell rings." He’ll follow Dempster and Zambrano in the season-opening rotation but needs to become the guy Quade wants on the mound for the first game back after the All-Star break.

DIAMONDBACKS

Lineup: CF Chris Young, 2B Kelly Johnson, SS Stephen Drew, RF Justin Upton, 1B Russell Branyan, C Miguel Montero, 3B Melvin Mora, LF Gerardo Parra/Xavier Nady.

Rotation: Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Joe Saunders, Armando Galarraga, Barry Enright.

Bullpen: J.J. Putz (closer), David Hernandez, Juan Gutierrez, Dam Demel, Joe Paterson, Mike Hampton, Aaron Heilman

Bench: C Henry Blanco, 1B/OF Brandon Allen, IF/OF Willie Bloomquist, IF Geoff Blum or IF Ryan Roberts.

Payroll: $59 million

Good news: Hmmm. Broke nine-game losing streak on March 18. Upton recovered from shoulder injury that cost him the last month of 2010. New spring digs shared with Rockies are outstanding.

Concerns: Nady apparently has not recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2009 and has shown very limited arm strength. Putz was scratched form a bullpen appearance March 18 because of tightness in his back. He is on his own program and had only made two previous spring appearances. In one he failed to retire a batter, giving up three walks and two hits in 28 pitches. May be nothing serious, still not good news for a team that had the worst bullpen in the majors last year.

Key injuries: Putz, if he is delayed. Rotation candidate Zach Duke suffered a broken hand when he was hit by a line drive and will not be available until May .He was a projected No. 4 (scary). Now, both Galarraga and Enright make the rotation.

Why Diamondbacks can win the West: Young offensive talent steps up. Kirk Gibson's emphasis on situational play takes root; young pitching takes another step forward; Putz is his old self.

Why Diamondbacks can't win the West: Not enough pitching. Almost inevitable growing pains occur under new regime.

Manager's record: Gibson is in his first full season. He was 34-49 after taking over for A.J. Hinch on July 1, 2010

Player who has to step up: Upton

New name: Parra. Fighting for left field job, in better shape, taken to hitting coach Don Baylor's approach. Of greater important are the two names that belong to amateur players, soon to be drafted by the Diamondbacks third and seventh overall.

DODGERS

Lineup: SS Rafael Furcal, 3B Casey Blake, RF Andre Ethier, CF Matt Kemp, 1B James Loney, 2B Juan Uribe, C Rod Barajas, LF Tony Gwynn.

Rotation: Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Garland.

Bullpen: Jonathan Broxton (closer), Hong-Chih Kuo (setup), Matt Guerrier, Blake Hawksworth, Mike MacDougal, Kenley Jansen, Tim Redding.

Bench: C Dioner Navarro, IF Jamey Carroll, IF Juan Castro or IF Aaron Miles, OF Marcus Thames, OF Jay Gibbons

Payroll: $100 million

Good news: Matt Kemp appears to be looser and more focused, especially with coaching staff changes (Bowa, Schaefer gone; Lopes, Pentland in). Kershaw looks like he might become a true ace.

Concerns: Injuries. Dodgers began spring with six starters, now have four. Blake may open season on DL because back ailment. Jeopardizing his spot in left field, Gibbons looked lost at the plate, he said, because he was wearing contact lens that were ill-sized and the wrong prescription.

Key injuries of the spring: Garland (oblique) and Vicente Padilla (elbow surgery) both expected to begin season on DL, but both expected back fairly quickly. Blake's back woes have been stubborn.

Why Dodgers can win the West: Loney hits in Dodgers Stadium like he does in hitter friendly parks in Phoenix, Denver and Cincinnati. Kemp reprises his form of 2009, when he won a Gold Glove and was a good offensive player. Ethier hits like he did until early last season, when a pinkie injury ruined his year. Pitching holds up.

Why the Dodgers can't win the West: Too many questions in their lineup, fragile health that's already showing up. Furcal needs to stay healthy, a big if. Team that quit on Joe Torre last summer may again wilt under stress.

Manager's record: Don Mattingly has never managed, either in the majors or the minors, save the Arizona Fall League.

Player who needs to step up:  Ethier. For all the talk about Kemp needing to rebound -- and he does -- Ethier showed he can be a star offensive player until he hurt the pinkie during batting practice in San Diego.

New face: If Gwynn Jr. can hit well enough to stay in the lineup, Mattingly may want to move him to center field, where he's most valuable. An outfield of Ethier-Gwynn-Kemp would be strong defensively.

GIANTS

Lineup: CF Torres, 2B Sanchez, Huff 1B, C Posey, SS Tejada, 3B Sandoval, LF Burrell/DeRosa, RF Ross.

Rotation: Lincecum, Sanchez, Cain, Zito, Bumgarner.

Bullpen: Wilson (closer), Romo, Lopez, Affeldt, Ramirez, Casilla. Last spot from among Suppan, Vogelsong, Runzler,Mota

Bench: IF Fontenot, C Whiteside, OF DeRosa/Burrell (whoever doesn't start, two of OF Schierholtz, 1B Brandon Belt, OF Rowand, IF Ishikawa.

Payroll: $122 million

Good news:  No serious medical issues. The biggest was Matt Cain's barking right elbow, but it was just tendinitis and he has already returned to exhibition action. Moreover, the starters have looked as good this spring as they did last fall in the World Series. Pablo Sandoval is 38 pounds thinner and hitting better. Mark DeRosa is completely healthy and scalding the ball after essentially being down the last 1 1/2 seasons with a torn wrist tendon. Also, though Brian Wilson's insanity has reached the danger zone, he is pitching well. Belt looks like a big leaguer, potentially a star, and might even start the season if the Giants want to create room for him.

Concerns: Tejada, their lone free-agent pickup, has looked his age and then some in the field and at the plate. Giants also don't really have a bona fide backup shortstop. This is the same issue they had last year, though the now-departed Juan Uribe filled in well. The Giants need to find a taker for Aaron Rowand (the Giants will eat most of his $24 million). He looks like the odd man out in the outfield and he's starting to sulk.

Key injuries: Nothing major. Cain's elbow plus a strained left oblique for CF Andres Torres, which has healed as well. He's playing. Backup C Eli Whiteside was held back by elbow tendinitis too, and he's back as well.

Why Giants can win the West: They look like a better team than last year's World Series champs, with a full year of Posey and Bumgarner, a slimmer Sandoval, a healthy DeRosa and Belt in reserve. Huff's versatility afield allowed the Giants to get more thump into their lineup last year, and may do so again with Belt.

Why Giants can't win the West: Pitchers show ill effects from heavier workloads last year. May not have a real good arm to slip into the rotation if one of the big boys gets hurt. Also, Giants have a killer three-city road trip right before the end of the regular season that could be their undoing in a close race.

Manager's record with the team: Bruce Bochy, four seasons, 323-325, first World Series title in San Francisco history.

Player who has to step up: Sandoval, coming off a terrible year after a great rookie season. No one doubts the hand-eye coordination.
New name: Belt, 22, fifth-round pick out of Texas in 2009. He could be the next Will Clark, only quieter.

INDIANS

Lineup: SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B Orlando Cabrera, RF Shin-Soo Choo, C Carlos Santana, DH Travis Hafner, LF Austin Kearns, 1B Matt LaPorta, 3B Jason Donald, CF Michael Brantley. Grady Sizemore (micro-fracture knee surgery) will start the season on the DL, but could come off sometime in April, in which case he goes back into center, Brantley to LF and Kearns to the bench

Rotation: Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Talbot, Josh Tomlin OR Jeanmar Gomez OR David Huff.

Bench: Jayson Nix, Adam Everett, Shelley Duncan, Lou Marson

Payroll: $50 million.

Good news: Santana is all the way back from season-ending knee surgery last year that robbed him of the chance to compete for the Rookie of the Year Award. Also, Sizemore, though he will begin the season on the DL, looks like he should be activated sometime during the first month of the season.

Concerns: The starting rotation after Carmona is filled with question marks. Last year’s shaky infield defense still bears watching.

Key injuries: None.

Why Indians can win the Central:  Stranger things have happened, but not many.

Why Indians can't win the Central: Numerous question marks in the starting rotation make mere contending, much less winning the division, highly unlikely. The only drama this year will be how soon they begin to bring up some of their top prospects from Class AAA Columbus.

Manager's record: Manny Acta,  69-93.

Player who has to step up: LaPorta. He was the centerpiece of the package of prospects the Indians got from the Brewers in the CC Sabathia trade, but he has yet to make any impact. Last year: 12 HR, 41 RBI, and a .221 average. He needs to have a big year in 2011 or the Sabathia trade threatens to become a major whiff by the front office.

New name: 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, the club’s top ranked hitting prospect, hit .478 with a 1.459 OPS in 11 spring training games before being sent to the minor league camp. He will start the season at Class AAA Columbus, and unless he falls flat on his face figures to be recalled by the Indians at some point before the All-Star break.

MARINERS

Lineup: Ichiro RF, Chone Figgins 3B, Milton Bradley LF, Jack Cust DH, Justin Smoak 1B, Franklin Gutierrez CF, *Miguel Olivo C, Brendan Ryan 2B, Jack Wilson SS. *Out with groin injury, could begin year on DL, in which case Adam Moore is probably the starter

Rotation: Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Miguel Pineda.

Bullpen: David Aardsma (closer, but will start the year on the DL while recovering from hip surgery. Most optimistic date of return is late April. So, until he gets back, closer will be Brandon League). Chris Ray, Manny Delcarmen, Josh Lueke, Aaron Laffey, then it’s too hard to predict who will take final spot.

Bench: Inf Adam Kennedy, OF Ryan Langerhans, backup catcher Josh Bard, Adam Moore or Chris Gimenez (it’s wide open, and Olivo is likely to start the year on the DL with a groin injury), other spot could go to Gabe Gross, Michael Saunders and/or Matt Tuiasosopo.

Projected payroll: $95 million

Good news: Bedard, who missed all of last season and underwent third shoulder surgery in August, has pitched extremely well in four spring starts without any pain. He would be big boost to rotation behind Felix. Also, rookie Michael Pineda, top pitching prospect in organization, appears on track to win rotation spot.

Concerns: Can they hit? The Mariners scored the fewest runs in the DH era last year, and didn’t really do much to address offense. It’s a big concern again. Another ongoing concern: Will Bradley, who appears to be beating out Saunders for left field, do anything crazy?

Key injuries: Olivo (groin) and Aardsma (hip surgery right before camp opened)

Why Mariners can win the West: Miracles happen.

Why Mariners can't win the West: They lost 101 games and don’t have the offense to compete. But they have the makings of a decent rotation, and look for Dustin Ackley to take over second base in June (when Super 2 issues are past). Their hope is for young guys like Ackley, Smoak and Pineda to establish themselves so they can make a run next year.

Manager's record: Eric Wedge is in first year with Seattle.

Player who has to step up: Lots of pressure on Justin Smoak to produce after GM Jack Zduriencik turned down Yankee package centered around Jesus Montero for Cliff Lee to take Rangers’ offer with Smoak as center piece.

New name: Cust will try to inject a little sock into what was miserable DH spot last year.

MARLINS

Lineup: CF Chris Coghlan, 2B Omar Infante, SS Hanley Ramirez, RF Mike Stanton, LF Logan Morrison, 1B Gaby Sanchez, C John Buck, 3B Matt Dominguez

Rotation: Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Javy Vazquez, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad

Bullpen:  Leo Nunez, Clay Hensley, Ryan Webb, Edward Mujica, Burke Badenhop, Mike Dunn, Randy Choate

Bench: C Brett Hayes, INF Wes Helms, OF/INF Emilio Bonifacio, INF Donnie Murphy, INF Greg Dobbs

Payroll: $57 million

Good news: Rookie third baseman Matt Dominguez looks like he won’t be overmatched offensively and should secure the opening day job.

Concerns: Because of Stanton’s injury, the Marlins young outfield hasn’t played together at all this spring. Morrison is a converted first baseman. Coghlan, coming off knee surgery, is transitioning from left to center. Stanton in his first full major league season is their most experienced outfielder.

Key injuries: Stanton strained a quad in the Feb. 27 exhibition opener against the University of Miami. As of March 17, had yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game, but will be ready for opening day. Nolasco jammed a thumb early on and didn’t make his first Grapefruit League start last Sunday the 13th.

Why Marlins can win the East: Have a Cy Young contender in Johnson and MVP candidate in Ramirez. The rotation is deeper with addition of Vazquez. The bullpen should be improved and they’ll have better infield defense.

Why Marlins can't win the East: Too many young guys in the lineup and it’s unrealistic to think all of them will take a step forward.

Manager's record with team: Edwin Rodriguez (46-46) entering second season.

Player who has to step up: Nolasco. He’s got 18-game winner stuff and is among the league’s top strike throwers. All his peripheral stats suggest he should be having a lot more success. Nolasco signed a three-year extension in December.

New name: Dominguez. All indications are he’ll be the Opening Day third baseman. He’s got an excellent glove, but is sure to have plenty of peaks and valleys offensively.

METS

Lineup: SS Jose Reyes, CF Angel Pagan, 3B David Wright, RF Carlos Beltran, LF Jason Bay, 1B Ike Davis, C Josh Thole, 2B Luis Hernandez

Rotation: Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey (knuckleballer), Jonathan Niese, Chris Young, Chris Capuano.

Bullpen:  Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell, D.J. Carrasco, Tim Byrdak, Pedro Beato, Jason Isringhausen, Taylor Buchholtz.

Bench: OF Lucas Duda, starter with Beltran down, OF Daniel Murphy, U Willie Harris, C Ronny Paulino, INF Chin-lung Hu, Brad Emaus

Payroll: Around $140 million. If you include Madoff, about $1 billion

Good news: Terry Collins has brought a sense of playing real baseball back to the team. And the players are raving about him. Reyes: “I love Terry. He reminds me of me, so much energy and passion for the game.’’ K-Rod said Collins reminds him of Mike Scioscia. “He’s close to his players but will give you a kick in the butt when you need it.’’ K-Rod is much more aggressive on the field instead of the family room and is attacking hitters and hitting 93 already. His focus is back.

Concerns: Starting rotation, bullpen, outside distractions caused by Madoff, Beltran’s knees. Mets quote of the week: Beltran, who has not played an inning in the field and will be moving to RF this season, said that when his spirits have gotten down over the last two years because of his knee woes, he takes out his baseball card and reads the back of it. “When I feel down, that’s what I do, I look at my numbers," Beltran said. “I see how many times I have driven in 100 runs. I say, ‘You know what, I’m a good player.’ " He is expected to be put on DL again.

Key injuries: Beltran’s left knee, the good one, has tendinitis.

Why Mets can win the East: I’m not even going to answer that question. You make the joke yourself. But Reyes will have to have an MVP season, but chances are, even if he does, new management team will trade him in July because he is a free agent next season. Someone is going to get a great player in July. Jose is healthy this season and worked his core over the winter, something he didn’t do last year because of all the hamstring injuries. Last year it was an oblique.

Why Mets can't win the East: Pitching depth. Jason Bay continues to be the Jason Bay the Mets had, not the Red Sox Jason Bay. He has zero homers this spring. He had six last season with the Mets, 36 with the Red Sox. Mets gave him $66 million. He needs 19 more RBI to even reach 66 RBI for the Mets. Oliver Perez is still a Met at this moment, that could change, much like Castillo.

Manager's record: Terry Collins 0-0 as a Met

Player who has to step up: All five starting pitchers. 2B Hernandez; Bay, who hit .259 and was limited to 95 games because of a concussion. He is changing his swing this spring, less motion. He should just go back to trying to pull the crap out of the ball. Perez, the lefty specialist, Josh Thole, young catcher who has no power but is smart and understands the game and finds a way to get cheap hits. Lucas Duda, pretty good looking young outfielder, bats lefty, he’s 6-4, 225. Got 29 games at the end of last year.

NATIONALS

Lineup: CF Nyjer Morgan, SS Ian Desmond, RF Jayson Werth, 3B Ryan Zimmerman, 1B Adam LaRoche, LF Michael Morse, C Ivan Rodriguez, 2B Danny Espinosa

Rotation: Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Marquis, Tom Gorzelanny or Ross Detwiler

Bullpen: Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett,  Todd Coffey,  Doug Slaten, Henry Rodriguez. Final spot goes to Chad Gaudin or Craig Stammen or Collin Balester or Elvin Ramirez. There probably won't be a designated closer to start the season. Storen, Clippard and Burnett will share the job.

Bench: C Wilson Ramos, IF-OF Jerry Hairston, OF Roger Bernadina, OF Rick Ankiel. Final spot goes to INF Alberto Gonzalez or INF Alex Cora or OF Matt Stairs or OF Laynce Nix.

Payroll: $65-$66 million, very close to last year's Opening Day number

Good news: Just about everyone in the rotation (the biggest question mark on this team) has pitched extremely well. Marquis has been spectacular after missing most of last season with bone chips in his elbow. Zimmermann has dominated and is 100 percent healthy following Tommy John surgery. Detwiler, a former first-round pick, has been a pleasant surprise and has thrown himself into the mix for a spot.

Concerns: Though the bullpen is deep and was one of the best units in baseball last year, there's no established closer. They want Storen to ascend into the role, but they don't want to put that much pressure on him yet, so they're going with the dreaded closer by committee to start the season.

Key injuries: No new injuries of significance (so far) but Chien-Ming Wang has been a disappointment. Just when it looked like he might be getting close to returning from the shoulder surgery that forced him to miss 2010, he experienced shoulder tightness and now has no timetable for coming off the DL.

Why Nats can win the East: They can't win the NL East. No chance whatsoever. That said, they appear to be a significantly improved team, with a decent lineup, a potentially outstanding defensive infield and a deep bullpen. There's no ace while Stephen Strasburg recovers from Tommy John surgery, but each of the 5 projected starters is capable of keeping these guys competitive.

Manager's record with team: Jim Riggleman is 102-135 in 1 1/2 seasons with the Nats, 624-787 overall with the Nats, Padres, Cubs and Mariners. He's entering the final year of his contract, but the Nats have a 2012 option on him.

Player who has to step up: Jordan Zimmermann. The Nats really need the young right-hander, who spent most of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, to establish himself as a front-line starter who ultimately can serve as the No. 2 guy behind Strasburg. He's looked great this spring, giving team officials reason to be optimistic.

New name: You may have heard of Jayson Werth. He signed the 14th largest contract in baseball history: $126 million over seven years. Plenty of people around the sport will be watching closely to see if he lives up to the deal, which is going to be almost impossible.

ORIOLES

Lineup: 2B Brian Roberts, RF Nick Markakis, 1B Derrek Lee*, DH Vladimir Guerrero, LF Luke Scott, CF Adam Jones, 3B Mark Reynolds, C Matt Wieters, SS J.J. Hardy

Rotation: Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman/Zach Britton/Justin Duchscherer.

Bullpen: Closer Kevin Gregg, Koji Uehara, Michael Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, Jeremy Accardo, Clay Rapada, Jason Berken/Mark Hendrickson

Bench: OF Felix Pie, MI Cesar Izturis, C Craig Tatum/Jake Fox, 4th reserve: Fox/Robert Andino/Nolan Reimold/Brendan Harris

Payroll: $92 million

Good news: Jake Fox, competing for the backup catcher job and bench role, had seven homers through March 17, leading the majors. Britton, the club’s top pitching prospect, went nine scoreless in his first three big-league outings. Nick Markakis is hitting again.

Concerns: If Roberts (back spasms) is out for any length of time, the offense is sunk. He played just 59 games last year, primarily due to a herniated disk in his back. The young starting rotation, besides Britton, has looked uninspiring. Luke Scott, the team’s MVP in 2010, had just two hits in his first 30 at-bats.

Key injuries: Roberts (back); Lee (sore right wrist after offseason thumb surgery); Duchscherer (left hip soreness following surgery), Uehara (right elbow soreness).

Why Orioles can win the East: The offensive additions would all have to have strong seasons while the young pitchers would collectively need to take the next step. Would be surprising, at the least, if they were to make a run in the AL East.

Why Orioles can't win the East: Playing at .500 – for the first time since 1997 – would be a realistic goal. Again, the team has little depth. Key injuries and/or ineffectiveness puts them into the basement again in 2011.

Manager's record with team: Buck Showalter, 34-23

Player who has to step up: Wieters. The hype has been thick since he made his debut May 29, 2009. His defense improved greatly last year, but now he has to hit as advertised to avoid being labeled a major bust (which Baseball Prospectus already has, by the way).

New name: Clay Rapada. The lefty sidearmer signed a minor-league deal with the Orioles after pitching with the Rangers last season. Unless he gets hurt, he will make the club as a LOOGY.

PHILLIES

Lineup: (assuming 2B Chase Utley starts season on DL) SS Jimmy Rollins, CF Shane Victorino, LF Raul Ibanez, 1B Ryan Howard, 3B Placido Polanco, RF Ben Francisco or John Mayberry Jr., C Carlos Ruiz, 2B Wilson Valdez.

Rotation: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton

Bullpen: Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, Danys Baez, Kyle
Kendrick, Antonio Bastardo.

Bench: Ross Gload, Brian Schneider, Francisco or Mayberry Jr., and pick one or two from a group including Josh Barfield, Michael Martinez, Delwyn Young and Pete Orr.

Payroll: Approximately $170 million. But if you’re talking out-of-pocket expense, call is $159 million since the Phillis got $11 million back from Houston in the Oswalt trade.

Good news: There’s been a spirited competition for both second base (Barfield, Martinez, Young, Orr) and right field (Francisco, Mayberry Jr.).

Concerns: Utley has gone to see a knee rehab specialist. He’s trying to avoid surgery to correct patellar tendinitis in his right knee. The implication is that if surgery is necessary, he’ll be out a long time, possibly even all season. Lidge has been bothered by biceps tendinitis, although he insists it’s something he goes through every spring.Key injuries: Utley (patellar tendinitis), prized rookie Domonic Brown (fractured hamate bone in right hand that required surgery).

Why Phillies can win the East: With their rotation, they should be in almost every game. And even if they lose Utley for the entire season, they’re counting on bounceback seasons by Rollins, Victorino, Howard and Ibanez to pick up the slack.

Why Phillies can't win the East: A string of injuries can sabotage even the best teams. Losing Utley and trying to replace Jayson Werth in right has already put the offense under the microscope.

RANGERS

Lineup: 2B Ian Kinsler, SS Elvis Andrus, LF Josh Hamilton, 3B Adrian Beltre, RF Nelson Cruz, DH Michael Young, 1B Mitch Moreland, C Yorvit Torrealba, CF Julio Borbon

Rotation: C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Tommy Hunter, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland

Bullpen: Alexei Ogando, Darren O'Day, Mark Lowe, Dave Bush, Arthur Rhodes, Darren Oliver, Neftali Feliz (closer).

Bench: OF David Murphy, C Matt Treanor, C-1B Mike Napoli, INF Andres Blanco.

Payroll: $94 million

Good news: Kinsler took to the leadoff role and will bring power to the spot. The young rotation candidates -- Harrison, Holland and Michael Kirkman -- all threw well. Lost in Feliz' is-he-or-isn't-he a starter was the development of a cut fastball that he plans on using against right- and left-handed hitters. Young kept his word and was completely professional despite being unhappy about his new role of DH and utility player.

Concerns: The Rangers think they have a better chance of keeping Hamilton healthy by using him in left and playing Borbon in center. The final three starters are shaky. Hunter, who was 13-4 last year despite marginal stuff, was hit hard in the spring. Harrison and Holland were much better, they were a combined 6-6 in the majors last season.

Key injuries: Torrealba, expected to catch about 100 games this season, missed time because of back stiffness. Beltre, the prized off-season addition, missed the first two weeks of exhibition play because of a strained calf muscle.

Manager's record with team: Ron Washington (331-317)

Player who has to step up: Beltre, given a five-year deal worth $80-million, replaces Vlad Guerrero as the cleanup hitter and protection for MVP Hamilton. Strong early, Guerrero had 29 homers and 115 RBIs last season. Beltre has not reached those levels in the same season since 2004, with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Why Rangers can win the West: They don't have Cliff Lee. Really. Lee's impact on this team last year was over-stated. The club had the lead when he arrived and went only 6-9 in his regular-season starts. He did, obviously, pitch well in the playoffs. The left side of the infield will be much improved with Beltre replacing Young at third. First base will produce more than last season's sickly totals of a .214 average, .345 slugging percentage, 16 homers and 59 RBIs. Lowe appears to be healthy again, which will help the bullpen depth.

Why Rangers can't win the West: The Rangers caught the division in a down year last season, taking the title with only 90 wins. It was the fewest victories for the AL West winner since the Rangers took the division in 1998 at 88-74. Wilson and Lewis both pitched more than 200 innings for the first time in their career last season and followed that with hard innings in the post-season. Each could pay for that this season

RAYS

Lineup: 2B Ben Zobrist, LF Johnny Damon, 3B Evan Longori, DH Manny Ramirez, RF Matt Joyce, CF B.J. Upton, 1B Dan Johnson, SS Brignac, C Jaso

Rotation: David Price, James Shields, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson.

Bullpen: Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Adam Russell, Andy Sonnanstine, *Juan Cruz, *Cesar Ramos, *Jake McGee. * Not set, these are leading candidates as of now

Bench: C Kelly Shoppach, OF Sam Fuld, IF Elliot Johnson, INF Sean Rodriguez inf, OF Matt Joyce depending on lineup.

Payroll: $41 million (a 40-plus percent cut from last year's $73-million)

Good news: Manny Ramirez has thus far been happy, engaged, working hard and a great teammate; Rays are saying (anyway) they are feel better about restocking bullpen based on overall quality of the arms competing; starting pitchers are all relatively healthy (tho hellickson has had a few minor things)

Concerns: Replacing all the missing pieces isn't going to be as easy as they think, as Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza and seven of the eight pitchers who threw the most relief innings last year (including AL best bullpen tandem of Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit) are all gone. Defense will take as big or bigger hit than offense. Keeping Manny happy and engaged, lack of depth after all the moves.

Key injuries: Nothing major to this point.

Why Rays can win the East: Come up with a bullpen out of the cornucopia of arms assembled here or by trade; if Manny goes back to being Manny of 2008 and Johnny Damon steps up; if the five starters blossom as the Rays say into Philly Lite.

Why Rays can't win the East: If bullpen is a hot mess that can't save a game, if one or two starters struggle or get hurt, if Manny doesn't want to play nice, if Reid Brignac fails as an everyday shortstop or if Matt Joyce doesn't step it up, or if Dan Johnson is a bust at first.

Manager's record with team: Joe Maddon is 404-406 through 5 seasons.

Player who has to step up: Brignac. The losses of Crawford and Pena and the additions of Manny and Damon have gotten most of the attention, but the Rays are banking heavily upon Brignac to step in everyday at shortstop, and he's a 25-year-old who has started only 61 big-league games at short (played in 82).

New name: LHP Jake McGee. Homegrown product has come back from Tommy John surgery and is ready to take a spot int he bullpen with the potential of being the future closer.

REDS


Lineup: CF Stubbs, 2B Brandon Phillips, 1B Joey Votto, 3B Scott Rolen, RF Jay Bruce, LF Jonny Gomes, C Ramon Hernandez/Ryan Hanigan (platoon), SS Paul Janish.

Rotation: Edinson Volqeuz, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto*, Travis Wood, Homer Bailey. *Cueto left last two starts with sore forearm and if he can’t make it, Mike Leake will be No. 5.
Bullpen: Coco Cordero (closer), Arolidis Chapman, Nick Masset, Dontrelle Willis, Bill Bray, Logan Ondrusek.

Bench: Edgar Renteria, Chris Valaika, Freddie Lewis, Chris Heisey, Miguel Cairo.

Payroll: $82 million.

Good news: Willis appears to have found his long lost effectiveness and had a great spring, securing a spot in the bullpen.

Concerns: Is Janish ready for the starting role with his Gold Glove defense but weak bat? He’ll start the season as the starter, but Renteria awaits in the wings.

Key injuries: Cueto, the No. 3 starter, left his last two starts early with a sore and stiff elbow and his status remains uncertain.

Why Reds can win the Central: After winning it last year, the team is poised to do it again with basically the same team. But the starting pitching should be better and with a predominantly young team most of the players should be better by natural progression.

RED SOX

Lineup: CF Jacoby Ellsbury, 2B Dustin Pedroia, LF Carl Crawford, 3B Kevin Youkilis, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, DH David Ortiz, RF J.D. Drew, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, SS Marco Scutar. (Note: Terry Francona may break up the three lefties in a row somehow, but so far this has been the favored lineup. Also, you'll see a lot of Mike Cameron subbing for Drew vs. Lefties)

Rotation: Jon Lester, John Lackey Clay Buchholz Josh Beckett Daisuke Matsuzaka

Bullpen: Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks, Hideki Okajima, Dan Wheeler, Matt Albers, Tim Wakefield. Note -- Okajima and Albers not etched in stone. Other lefty candidates are Rich Hill, Dennys Reyes and Andrew Miller, all have pitched well. Righties Alfredo Acvees and Scott Atchison also possibilities.

Bench:  C Jason Varitek, INF Jed Lowrie OF Darnell McDonald,  OF Cameron.

Payroll: $170 million

Good news: Health. After injury-riddled season all guys with surgeries or injuries - Gonzalez, Youkilis, Pedroia, Cameron, Saltalamacchia, Ellsbury are healthy. Sox also feel they have a couple of "steals" in hard-throwing lefty Andrew Miller, Aceves, who they signed late and Albers who has been excellent. Lowrie very productive hitter and could be a valuable super utility player who could vye for SS job.

Concerns: The erratic Papelbon, who blew a career-high nine saves last season. No idea whether he'll bounce back from worst season. Has had a mixed bag spring.

Key injuries: None.

Why Red Sox can't win the East: So much of the success depends on the three vets in the rotation - Lackey, Beckett Dice-K stepping up and being what they're supposed to be. Beckett looks good, but still doesn't look like the Beckett of old. Lackey won 14 last year and also looks stronger. Dice-K? Who the bleep knows. Also, Papelbon.

Why Red Sox can win the East: May be most talented team in the majors.

Manager's record: Terry Francona enters eighth season with Sox after four years with Phillies (1997-200) where he was 285-363 (.440). He's 654-480 (.577) with Red Sox, the second-highest winning percentage in team history (behind Joe McCarthy's .606). Since taking over in '04 has second best winning percentage in majors, behind Yankees (.594). Has guided Sox to five postseasons in the last seven, with two rings. He's 28-17 (.622) in postseason, second best in major league history (minimum 25 games) behind McCarthy's 30-13 (.698). Has 31 ejections, has managed two All-Star games.

Player who has to step up: Beckett. Needs to get back to his nasty form. He went 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA in 21 starts last season. Needs to at least get back to 2009 form -- 17-6, 3.86. Needs to be his usual nails self in the postseason.

New name: Two of them. Crawford and Gonzalez. The dynamic of Crawford/Ellsbury on basepaths and in outfield is intriguing. Two of the best basestealers in the game. Gonzalez has that picture-perfect inside-out Fenway swing. Graphs indicate 15 balls that went for outs at Petco would have been hits at Fenway.

ROCKIES

Lineup: CF Dexter Fowler, RF Seth Smith, LF Carlos Gonzalez, SS Troy Tulowitzki, 1B Todd Helton, 2B Jose Lopez, 3B Ian Stewart, C Chris Iannetta.

Rotation: Ubaldo Jimenez,  Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel, Esmil Rogers.

Bullpen: Huston Street, Rafael Bertancourt, Matt Belisle, Matt Lindstrom and Felipe Paulino,  Franklin Morales, Matt Reynolds.

Bench: C Jose Morales, 1B Jason Giambi, 1B-2B-3B-LF Ty Wigginton, 2B-3B-SS-LF Jonathan Herrera,  OF Ryan Spilborghs.

Payroll: $88 million.

Good news: Helton regained separation in his stride and is driving the ball into gaps, showing some signs of power. He admits it’s a make or break season.

Concerns: Street remains inconsistent, leaving bullpen in upheaval. Iannetta continues to struggle at the plate .

Key injuries: RHP Aaron Cook had right shoulder inflammation early and then slammed his hand in the door, breaking right index finger. He will miss at least first month of season.

Why Rockies can win the West: Roster is well balanced, particularly with addition of Wiggington in place of Melvin Mora and emergence of Herrera, who could be starting at second before too much of the season passes. Lefty reliever prospect Rex Brothers showed he will be ready soon. RHPs John Maine, who underwent shoulder surgery 10 months ago, and former No. 1 pick Greg Reynolds both made solid runs at fifth spot in rotation and should be of help during the season. And don’t overlook C Jordan Pacheco. Man can flat out hit. Only two years removed from being converted from second base. Manager Jim Tracy would like to keep him for bat but organization wants to see if he can continue to develop defensively and become a front line catcher.

Why Rockies can't win the West: Because they never do and they usually can't hit enough on the road.

Manager's record with team: Tracy, 157-121, hired May 28, 2009.

Player who has to step up: Stewart has game-changing bat potential. Was overly passive at plate in past. He was a big reason for hitting coach change that resulted in hiring Carney Lansford to replace Don Baylor.

New name: Wigginton is perfect fit for this team with his ability to play corner spots and providing legitimate right handed bat

TWINS

Lineup: CF Denard Span, 3B Tsuyoshi Nishioka, C Joe Mauer, 1B Justin Morneau, LF Delmon Young, DH Jason Kubel, RF Michael Cuddyer, 3B Danny Valencia, SS Alexi Casilla.

Rotation: Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing, Scott Baker.

Bullpen: Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, Jose Mijares, Kevin Slowey (long relief). Three spots wide open: Glen Perkins (out of options), Scott Diamond (Rule 5), Dusty Hughes, Pat Neshek, Alex Burnett, Kyle Waldrop, Jim Hoey and others.

Bench: DH  Jim Thome, C Drew Butera, OF Jason Repko, INF Luke Hughes or Matt Tolbert.

Payroll: $113 million

Good news: Joe Nathan (Tommy John surgery) and Justin Morneau (concussion) have returned, and the Twins are confident Joe Mauer (knee surgery) and Michael Cuddyer (wart removed from his foot) will be ready for the April 1 season opener in Toronto.

Concerns: The bullpen, the middle infield and the injuries mentioned above.

Key injuries: Besides the ones mentioned above, Delmon Young had a swollen toe that kept him out of Grapefruit League play until this week. RH Anthony Slama had a chance to be in the bullpen but he’s had right elbow soreness.

Why Twins can win the Central: The Twins return six starting pitchers who won 10 or more games for last year’s division champion, and they think 2009 first-round pick Kyle Gibson would be ready to slide into the rotation as soon as he’s needed. The Twins won 94 games last year without Morneau and Nathan, and now those two All-Stars are back.

Why Twins can't win the Central: They sure seem fragile now with Mauer’s knee, Morneau’s head and Nathan’s elbow. They lost four key relievers --  Jess Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch -- from last year’s team, and no matter which seven relievers they decide to bring north, it’s going to be an odd-looking bunch. The lineup lost SS J.J. Hardy and 2B Orlando Hudson, and while there might be more speed and agility with Casilla/Nishioka, the lineup could sputter if neither middle infielder hits.

Manager's record with team: Ron Gardenhire is 803-656 entering his 10th season as Twins manager.

Player who has to step up:  Span. The leadoff man saw his on-base percentage slip from .392 in 2009 to .331 last year.

New name: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who won the Japanese Pacific League batting title last year, batting .346 for the Chiba Lotte Marines.
 
WHITE SOX

Lineup: LF Juan Pierre, 2B Gordon Beckham, DH Adam Dunn, 1B Paul Konerko, CF Alex Rios, RF Carlos Quentin, C A.J. Pierzynski, SS Alexei Ramirez, 3B Brent Morel.

Rotation:  Mark Buehrle,  Edwin Jackson, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Jake Peavy OR Phil Humber

Bullpen: Tony Pena, Jesse Crain, Sergio Santo, Will Ohman, Chris Sale,  Matt Thornton (closer), Phil Humber OR Brian Bruney (if Sox use a 12-man staff)

Bench: C Ramon Castro, INF Omar Vizquel, INF-OF Mark Teahen, INF-OF Brent Lillibridge, OF Lastings Milledge OR Alejandro De Aza

Payroll: $125.5 million

Good news: Jake Peavy appears close to fully recovered from a detached latissimus dorsi muscle near his right shoulder. At the very worst, he would be back by mid-April. He could be ready by April 6 -- when the Sox need a fifth starter.

Concerns: Who is the closer? Will the Sox get enough mileage out of Peavy? Can the Sox cope with a bullpen by committee, or can Thornton hold the closer role over a full season? Will Dunn live up to his four-year, $56 million contract?
Key injuries: Dayan Viciedo, making a surprising run for a reserve outfield job, was hit by a pitch from Texas' David Bush on March 10 and will be sidelined from 2-4 weeks. Viciedo was an infielder last year but played superb defense in right field.

Why the White Sox can win the Central: The Sox win the division title because of Dunn's much-welcomed production from the left side, where they had only 186 RBIs last season. Ramirez is on the verge of All-Star status at shortstop, the starting pitching is deep, with Danks on the verge of becoming the ace.

Why the White Sox can't win the Central: They're too old. Buehrle and Peavy don't pitch anywhere close to their potential, and there's no reliable closer. Konerko starts to show his age, and A.J. Pierzynski becomes an offensive liability as well as a defensive liability.

Manager's record with team: Ozzie Guillen: 600-535 in seven seasons

Player who has to step up: Take your pick: Beckham, who is expected to have a rebound year after needing a late surge to bat .252 in 2010, or Buehrle, who is undecided about 2012 but has seen his ERA swell and his innings decrease over the past two years.

YANKEES

Lineup: LF Brett Gardner, SS Derek Jeter, 1b Mark Teixeira, 3B Alex Rodriguez 3B, 2B Robinson Cano, RF Nick Swisher, DH Jorge Posada, CF Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin.

Rotation: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon/Freddy Garcia until something better comes along.

Bullpen: Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Dave Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano, Boone Logan, Sergio Mitre.

Bench: C Jesus Montero, INF Eric Chavez, INF Ramiro Pena, OF Greg Golson

Payroll: Amazingly, it’s between $189 million and $193 million, depending on who makes the team. But there are incentives that will take it over the Trump Line: $200 million at some point

Good news: A-Rod is crushing the ball this spring. Said he hasn’t felt this healthy in years. He got the green light from his hip doctor in Denver to work out this winter and he is much more flexible than last year. Teixeira ramped up his winter workouts, facing a pitching machine more at 90-95 to avoid another bad April (see earlier file from last week). Rivera looks fantastic again and now he has help in Soriano. Posada has accepted new role. Robby Cano could win MVP and nobody talks about him.

Concerns: A.J. Burnett. He’s had a good spring and new pitching coach Larry Rothschild is working on his head to get him to just throw the damn ball and stop thinking. Burnett will always have insecurity issues, can he overcome him? He needs a good catcher that he can trust, and as one Yankee told me, “does all his thinking for him.’’ CC Sabathia is getting some miles on him and lost 30 pounds this winter after knee woes. Pedro Feliciano has a tired arm. I thought it was tired last year with the Mets because over the last three years he has made an astounding 266 appearances. Through the years only Eddie Feigner from the King and His Court has made more appearances.

Key injuries: Joba’s oblique. Logan's back spasms. Mitre's oblique. Cervelli's broken foot. That’s about it, nothing serious.

Why Yankees can win the East: They have a monster lineup and are motivated. Derek Jeter adapts to new stance, where he is square and doesn’t cross over with front foot, which allowed pitchers to get fastball in on him. And most of all, starting pitching overcomes issues with Sabathia and Burnett leading the way.

Why Yankees can't win the East: Not signing Cliff Lee doomed them because they needed him to keep up with the Red Sox.

Manager's record: Joe Girardi: 287-199, .591 winning percentage, one World Series title, looking for No. 28 so he can change his number again.

Player who has to step up: Burnett. Also keep Manny Banuelos on your radar. Only 20, the lefty starter has wowed the Yankees. One prominent Yankee said “He reminds me of a young Johan." Yes, that would be Santana.


ROYALS

Lineup: 3B Mike Aviles, C Jason Kendall, 1B Billy Butler, DH Kila Ka'aihue, CF Melky Cabrera, RF Jeff Francoeur, LF Alex Gordon, 2B Chris Getz, SS Alcides Escobar

Rotation: Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies, Sean O'Sullivan/Vin Mazzaro.

Bullpen: Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejeda, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman, Kanekoa Texeira, Mike Montgomery/Danny Duffy, Nate Adcock.

Bench: C Manny Pina, UTL Wilson Betemit, OF Mitch Maier, OF Gregor Blanco.

Payroll: $35.8 million.

Good news: Some of the kids who won't make the club (3B Mike Moustakas, 1B Eric Hosmer, C Salvador Perez) didn't look at all overmatched.

Concerns: Just marking time until the youth movement arrives in force.

Key injuries: None so far.

Why Royals can win Central: See "miracles happen."

Why Royals can't win Central: Because we're not talking AAA or AA, which is where most of the talent will be.

Manager's record with team: Ned Yost is 55-72.

Player who has to step up: OF Alex Gordon. This projects as a make-or-break year.

New name: Not many when season starts. There could be a flood by the end of the season. But LHP Tim Collins has a chance to be special as setup reliever for Joakim Soria.

TIGERS

Lineup: (not batting order) C Alex Avila, 1B Miguel Cabrera, 2B undecided, SS  Jhonny Peralta, 3B Brandon Inge, LF Ryan Raburn, CF Austin Jackson, RF Magglio Ordonez, DH Victor Martinez.

Rotation: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Phil Coke, Brad Penny.

Bullpen: Jose Valverde (closer), Joaquin Benoit, Ryan Perry, Brad Thomas. Three spots open.

Bench: IF Ramon Santiago, IF-OF Don Kelly, two spots open.

Payroll: $105 million.

Good news: Cabrera is in camp and now hitting; lots of good competition at 2B and for reserve OF spots.

Concerns: Bullpen depth, offensive depth.

Key injuries: RHP Joel Zumaya, trying to come back from a broken elbow, aggravated the surgically-repaired, screw-inserted-in-it elbow in his first exhibition outing. He hasn't pitched since and will open the season on the disabled list. The Tigers expected all along that 2B Carlos Guillen would open on the disabled list, and he will.

Why Tigers can win the Central: Got big bat for middle of the order in Martinez, and got Benoit to be the set-up man, will have Ordonez back for full year after he missed final two months last year with a broken ankle.

Why Tigers can't win the Central: Twins always seem to find a way, no matter how much they have go wrong. Tigers don't have a lot of depth on offense.

Manager's record: Jim Leyland is 424-387 with Detroit.

Player who has to step up: Porcello, who floundered in the first half last season after his 14-win rookie season in '09.

New name: Look for LH Andy Oliver to be in the rotation one way or another at some point this season. He didn't make the Opening Day club, but the Tigers like him a lot. Major league teams averaged using nine starting pitchers per team last season.