New York Yankees - 93 wins
Boston Red Sox - 92 wins
Toronto Blue Jays - 87 wins
Tampa Bay Rays - 82 wins
Baltimore Orioles - 68 wins
NYY: I was fully ready to pick Boston to finish first, but as I went over the numbers, I just couldn't concede that the Yankees couldn't finish on top. First of all, their lineup, although older, is still lethal. This is a team that consistently puts up high OBP (on base percentage), OPS+ (adjusted on base plus slugging), HR (home runs) and EqA (equivalent average) numbers. Even if Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez do not match their seasons last year, which is likely, the Yankees still have enough offense to lead the league in runs (PECOTA predicts the Yankees to score close to 900 runs, which is almost a million runs). Where the Yankees have a problem is with their pitching. Their rotation, without Joba Chamberlain, all sport low K/BB (strikeout per walks ratio). The bullpen has some solid contributors, including the aging Mariano Rivera, but games may turn on players like Kyle Farnsworth, who has a decent K/9 (strikeout per 9 innings ratio) rate offset by a poor BB/9 (walks per 9 innings ratio) showing. I think, though, that the staff's OBPA (on base percentage against) percentage, strikeout ratios, walk ratios, etc., are just good enough to create enough win opportunities for the offense.
BOS: Boston's offense is just slightly behind New York's, another team capable of walks and bombs. The Sox lineup is pretty tough, but while Dustin Pedroia may well be the real deal, I'm not as sure about Jacoby Ellsbury. Between Coco Crisp and Ellsbury, I wonder if the Sox are going to get much offense out of center field. Boston makes up for a slightly worse offense with a slightly better pitching situation. With the exception of Tim Wakefield, their rotation features a higher K/9 rate and a lower OBPA. After Josh Beckett, however, the staff runs into problems with walks. Their bullpen is fairly impressive, from Jonathan Papelbon to Hideki Okajima to Manny Delcarmen. If Papelbon has enough in his arsenel to be a starter, though, then he is being wasted in the bullpen, and the Sox are losing wins (I just blew your mind).
TOR: Toronto is falling out of favor with some, and their average offense certainly does little to inspire. Adding David Eckstein (93 OPS+, .266 EqA in '07) and Scott Rolen (89 OPS+, .256 EqA) didn't help. If Vernon Wells (.240 EqA) doesn't turn around, then the lineup is really shakey. However, the Jays sport one of the best rotations in all of baseball. This is a team with stellar OBPA and K/BB numbers on the mound throughout the game. Starters like Roy Halladay and Shaun Marcum can shut down teams, with guys like Jeremy Accardo and Scott Downs taking over at the end. Jesus Murphy, it's hard not to be excited a-boat these pitching neels if you're a Toronto fan, eh? If they actually had some bats besides Alex Rios and Frank Thomas, the Blue Jays would be a legitimate contender for first place in the division, even above the Yankees and Red Sox. But they don't, so it's third place.
TBR: The Bay Rays are a popular pick for third place in the division, but their offense is a little overrated, and so I call bullshit. The lineup is slightly above average. Guys like Dioner Navarro (70 OPS+) help balance out hitters like B.J. Upton (136 OPS+), and basically the team looks like Akinori Iwamura (105 OPS+) - good, but not great (also, male...they all look like men). Their pitching is also a little overrated. James Shields is a guy that's going to put up good K/BB and OBPA numbers (maybe even better than '07's 5.11, .285). Scott Kazmir, slightly less so ('07: 2.69, .331). After that? Awful. Andrew Sonnanstine may work as a decent third, but they have no fourth or fifth starters of any good value. The bullpen is a bit better than one would expect. There's potential to make a good run, but I can't see them sustaining anything for the entire season.
BAL: The Orioles are putrid. After Nick Markakis (121 OPS+) and Brian Roberts (112 OPS+), the punch in the offense comes from Kevin Millar (106 OPS+) and Luke Scott (119 OPS+, with a probable dropoff in '08). When Aubrey Huff (103 OPS+) is your DH, you know you have problems. The hitting looks pretty good, though, when compared with how dreadful the pitching is. This is the worst rotation in the AL, even worse than Texas'. Jeremy Guthrie is the best starter on the team (.300 OBPA and 2.62 K/BB), and everything else is downhill. I mean...there's just so much awfulness. Daniel Cabrera? Too many walks, and not a high enough K/9 to make up for it. Loewen? His OBPA last year approached .400 in a little over 30 innings pitched, but even the year before, he had a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 1.54 in 112 1/3 innings. I...I can't go on. I'm sorry, Baltimore. In this division where the Sox and Yanks will knock the shit out of your pitching and the Jays will shut you down time and time again, you're just not going to get many wins. Your team blows.