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03/28/08 9:00 AM ET
Preseason AL staff rankings
Quality arms can be found in hitter-friendly junior circuit
Former AL Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay sets the tone for an outstanding Blue Jays pitching staff. (AP)


When thinking about the quality of pitching in the Majors, it's easy to gloss over the arms that reside in the American League.

After all, the National League is known more for its "small ball" history. Certainly, the fact that pitchers have to fend for themselves at the plate goes a long way toward fostering that reputation.

Nevertheless, every team in the junior circuit suits up a full pitching staff, and you'll want to make sure you grab the right ones when taking part in the 2008 Open, our free head-to-head fantasy game.

Here's a rundown of the 14 AL staffs, ranked in order from best to worst:

1. Blue Jays

Projected rotation
1. RHP Roy Halladay
2. RHP A.J. Burnett
3. RHP Dustin McGowan
4. RHP Shaun Marcum
5. RHP Jesse Litsch

Projected bullpen
Closer: LHP B.J. Ryan
Setup man: RHP Jeremy Accardo
Middle relievers: RHP Brandon League, RHP Jason Frasor, LHP Scott Downs, LHP Brian Tallet, RHP Brian Wolfe, RHP Randy Wells

Analysis: Rogers Centre is known to favor hitters, and the road through the AL East is a tough one, but the staff was still good enough to finish second in the league with a 4.00 ERA in 2007. The top four starters all warrant serious mixed-league consideration, while Accardo has proven himself capable of shutting the door if Ryan encounters more obstacles on his road back from Tommy John surgery.

Sleeper candidate: McGowan
Potential bust: Ryan

2. Red Sox

Projected rotation
1. RHP Josh Beckett (injured)
2. RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka
3. RHP Curt Schilling (injured)
4. LHP Jon Lester
5. RHP Clay Buchholz/RHP Tim Wakefield/RHP Bartolo Colon

Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Jonathan Papelbon
Setup man: LHP Hideki Okajima
Middle relievers: RHP Mike Timlin, RHP Manny Delcarmen, RHP Kyle Snyder, LHP Javier Lopez, RHP Julian Tavarez

Analysis: The Boston staff isn't as stable as the unit that led the AL with a 3.87 ERA last year, but it's still pretty good. Beckett and Papelbon are as dominant as they come, while young guns Lester and Buchholz have already shown they have the stuff to shut down big league hitters.

Sleeper candidates: Buchholz, Delcarmen
Potential bust: Schilling

3. Indians

Projected rotation
1. LHP C.C. Sabathia
2. RHP Fausto Carmona
3. RHP Jake Westbrook
4. RHP Paul Byrd
5. LHP Cliff Lee

Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Joe Borowski
Setup man: RHP Rafael Betancourt
Middle relievers: LHP Rafael Perez, RHP Masahide Kobayashi, LHP Craig Breslow, RHP Jensen Lewis, RHP Jorge Julio

Analysis: Sabathia and Carmona could both take a step back after throwing a ton of innings last year, but there's room for improvement with Westbrook and Lee. The bullpen also remains a strength. If Borowski's run as a soft-tossing but effective closer comes to an end, then Betancourt and newcomer Kobayashi are both capable of taking over.

Sleeper candidates: Betancourt, Kobayashi
Potential bust: Borowski

4. Twins

Projected rotation
1. RHP Livan Hernandez
2. RHP Boof Bonser
3. RHP Kevin Slowey
4. RHP Scott Baker
5. LHP Francisco Liriano/RHP Nick Blackburn

Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Joe Nathan
Setup man: RHP Pat Neshek
Middle relievers: RHP Matt Guerrier, RHP Juan Rincon, LHP Dennys Reyes, RHP Jesse Crain, RHP Brian Bass

Analysis: Even if Liriano has a tough time in his return from Tommy John surgery, the Minnesota rotation has enough talent to keep the team competitive in the first year of the post-Johan Santana era. It helps that the bullpen, anchored by the recently re-signed Nathan, is arguably the best in the Majors.

Sleeper candidates: Bonser, Slowey, Baker
Potential bust: Liriano

5. Mariners

Projected rotation
1. LHP Erik Bedard
2. RHP Felix Hernandez
3. LHP Jarrod Washburn
4. RHP Carlos Silva
5. RHP Miguel Batista

Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP J.J. Putz
Setup man: RHP Brandon Morrow
Middle relievers: RHP Sean Green, RHP Cha Seung Baek, LHP Eric O'Flaherty, RHP R.A. Dickey, LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith

Analysis: Bedard and Hernandez have the potential to form the best 1-2 starting punch in the AL, while the three veterans behind them have the ability to eat innings and turn in their share of quality starts. The key figure in the bullpen may very well be Morrow, who has the power arm to claim the vacant setup role and get the ball to the incredible Putz.

Sleeper candidate: Morrow
Potential bust: Silva

6. Angels

Projected rotation
1. RHP Jon Lackey (injured)
2. RHP Jered Weaver
3. RHP Jon Garland
4. RHP Ervin Santana
5. LHP Joe Saunders/RHP Dustin Moseley/Nick Adenhart

Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Francisco Rodriguez
Setup men: RHP Scot Shields (injured), Justin Speier
Middle relievers: LHP Darren Oliver, RHP Chris Bootcheck (injured), RHP Rich Thompson

Analysis: The Angels' staff has been rocked by injuries, as Lackey and Shields will begin the season on the DL and Kelvim Escobar is out indefinitely. The team has enough depth to make up for those losses, however, especially if the talented Santana can overcome the mechanical issues that led to a rocky 2007. Speier should serve as a capable setup replacement for Shields and pave the way for another 40-save season from K-Rod.

Sleeper candidates: Santana, Saunders
Potential busts: Shields, Garland

7. Rays

Projected rotation
1. RHP James Shields
2. LHP Scott Kazmir (injured)
3. RHP Matt Garza
4. RHP Andy Sonnanstine
5. RHP Edwin Jackson/RHP Jason Hammel

Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Troy Percival
Setup men: RHP Al Reyes, RHP Dan Wheeler
Middle relievers: RHP Gary Glover, LHP J.P. Howell, LHP Trever Miller, RHP Grant Balfour

Analysis: The Rays staff has finally caught up to their offense in terms of potential. Shields makes for a nice complement to the electric Kazmir at the top of the rotation, while Garza has the stuff to be a strong No. 3. The bullpen, though improved, is still a little shaky. Percival will be hard-pressed to replicate his 2007 form (1.80 ERA) over a full season in a tougher division.

Sleeper candidates: Garza, Sonnanstine
Potential bust: Percival

8. Yankees

Projected rotation
1. RHP Chien-Ming Wang
2. LHP Andy Pettitte
3. RHP Phil Hughes
4. RHP Mike Mussina
5. RHP Ian Kennedy

Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Mariano Rivera
Setup man: RHP Joba Chamberlain
Middle relievers: RHP LaTroy Hawkins, RHP Kyle Farnsworth, LHP Billy Traber, RHP Brian Bruney, RHP Darrell Rasner

Analysis: Wang has been steady over the last two seasons, but the rest of the rotation consists of two aging veterans (Pettitte, Mussina) and two unproven youngsters (Hughes, Kennedy). Hughes should at least take another step toward fulfilling his destiny as the Yanks' future ace. The team's other golden arm, Chamberlain, has been moved back to the bullpen, where he'll serve as a dominant bridge to the still capable Rivera for now.

Sleeper candidate: Hughes
Potential bust: Pettitte

9. Athletics

Projected rotation
1. RHP Joe Blanton
2. RHP Rich Harden
3. RHP Justin Duchscherer
4. LHP Dana Eveland
5. RHP Chad Gaudin (injured)

Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Huston Street
Setup men: LHP Alan Embree, RHP Keith Foulke
Middle relievers: RHP Kiko Calero (injured), RHP Santiago Casilla, LHP Lenny DiNardo, RHP Andrew Brown, RHP Fernando Hernandez

Analysis: Harden is capable of dominating any lineup when healthy, and Duchscherer should be effective in his return to the starting role he held throughout his Minor League career. Street is a quality closer in a quality bullpen, but he could get traded in another salary-dumping move, which would create an opening for veterans Embree and Foulke to see some save opportunities.

Sleeper candidate: Harden, Duchscherer, Embree, Foulke
Potential bust: None

10. Tigers

Projected rotation
1. RHP Justin Verlander
2. LHP Kenny Rogers
3. RHP Jeremy Bonderman
4. LHP Nate Robertson
5. LHP Dontrelle Willis

Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Todd Jones
Setup men: RHP Fernando Rodney (injured), RHP Denny Bautista
Middle relievers: RHP Joel Zumaya (injured) RHP Jason Grilli, LHP Bobby Seay, RHP Aquilino Lopez, RHP Francis Beltran, RHP Yorman Bazardo

Analysis: If Bonderman can overcome his second-half problems and Willis shows that his rough 2007 was a fluke, then the rotation could be a strength. The bullpen, however, is a mess. With their top two setup men (Rodney, Zumaya) injured, the Tigers badly need Bautista to carry his spring form (1.42 ERA) into the regular season, especially if Jones' spring form (10.42 ERA) doesn't improve.

Sleeper candidates: Bautista
Potential bust: Jones, Willis

11. Royals

Projected rotation
1. RHP Gil Meche
2. RHP Brian Bannister
3. RHP Zach Greinke
4. LHP John Bale
5. RHP Brett Tomko

Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Joakim Soria
Setup man: RHP Joel Peralta
Middle relievers: RHP Yasuhito Yabuta, RHP Ramon Ramirez, LHP Jimmy Gobble, LHP Ron Mahay, RHP Joel Peralta

Analysis: Meche is a quality frontline arm, if not a true ace, while Bannister and Greinke have the potential to help out as legitimate mixed-league starters. The back end of the rotation and the bullpen leave plenty to be desired, though Soria is the real deal as a closer.

Sleeper candidates: Bannister, Greinke
Potential bust: None

12. White Sox

Projected rotation
1. LHP Mark Buehrle
2. RHP Javier Vazquez
3. RHP Jose Contreras
4. LHP John Danks
5. RHP Gavin Floyd

Projected bullpen
Closer: RHP Bobby Jenks
Setup men: RHP Octavio Dotel, RHP Scott Linebrink
Middle relievers: LHP Matt Thornton, RHP Mike MacDougal, RHP Ehren Wasserman, RHP Mick Masset

Analysis: It's hard to imagine the Sox getting much from the back end of their rotation, as both Danks and Floyd have command issues and Contreras is in decline. Vazquez seems to have adjusted nicely to his hitter-friendly home confines, however, and Jenks has matured into a legitimate top-shelf closer.

Sleeper candidate: None
Potential bust: Buehrle

13. Rangers

Projected rotation
1. RHP Kevin Millwood
2. RHP Vicente Padilla
3. RHP Jason Jennings
4. LHP Kason Gabbard
5. RHP Luis Mendoza (injured)

Projected bullpen
Closer: LHP C.J. Wilson
Setup man: RHP Joaquin Benoit
Middle relievers: LHP Eddie Guardado, RHP Kazuo Fukumori, RHP Jamey Wright, RHP Franklyn German, RHP Robinson Tejeda

Analysis: Everything's bigger in Texas, including ERAs; last year, four of the team's five projected starters finished with marks above 5.00. There's more quality talent in the bullpen, where Benoit, Fukumori and Guardado could all step in and help out if Wilson struggles in his first full year as the team's closer.

Sleeper candidate: Fukumori
Potential bust: Wilson

14. Orioles

Projected rotation
1. RHP Jeremy Guthrie
2. RHP Steve Trachsel
3. RHP Daniel Cabrera
4. LHP Adam Loewen
5. LHP Brian Burres

Projected bullpen
Closer: LHP George Sherrill
Setup men: LHP Jamie Walker, RHP Chad Bradford
Middle relievers: RHP Matt Albers, RHP Dennis Sarfate, RHP Greg Aquino, RHP Randor Bierd, RHP Rocky Cherry

Analysis: The Orioles are in full-scale rebuilding mode, which means the pitching staff is riddled with question marks. Will Cabrera ever be able to harness his power stuff? And will newcomer Sherrill prove to be a legitimate closer? Guthrie and Loewen at least provide some hope with their promising young arms.

Sleeper candidates: Guthrie, Loewen
Potential bust: Sherrill

Tim Ott is a fantasy writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.