Yankees did enough to return to the top

Now that we know who will be where as baseball grinds through the summer heat and into the coolness that is the early-fall stretch drive, it’s time to take stock and make some bold calls. This week, the American League. Next week, the National.

AL EAST

Yankees: By adding Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle, the Bombers did more to improve themselves than any team in baseball. If Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield return to full strength by September, the offense will be strong enough to compensate for the pitching problems. Lidle wasn’t a sexy pickup by any means, but he’ll get deep enough into most of his starts to prevent further exposure of an underwhelming bullpen.

Red Sox: Boston didn’t do a thing at the deadline, and it’s going to hurt down the stretch. The rotation could have used a veteran starter, the bullpen needed a little help, and sooner or later, it won’t be Big Papi at the plate when the Sox need a big hit. Nonetheless, the AL wild card that has been conceded to the AL Central’s second-place team for most of the year will end up in Beantown’s possession.

Blue Jays: Shea Hillenbrand

wasn’t the problem. The problem, no matter how much money Toronto spends, will always be that New York and Boston are in the division. The Jays are another stud starting pitcher and a deeper bullpen away from being truly relevant.

Orioles: Keeping Miguel Tejada was a mistake. The O’s need to stop kidding themselves, tear it all down and start from scratch. Oh, and whatever happened to Leo Mazzone’s genius? The best arm in the organization belongs to Daniel Cabrera, and he was recently banished to the minors to work on his control.

Devil Rays: Also several years from being a truly good team, Tampa Bay at least has a core of young players that make the team fun to watch. And the AL Cy Young is there for Scott Kazmir’s taking as early as next year.

AL CENTRAL

Tigers: Everybody who expected them to fade at some point is still waiting, but it’s not going to happen. The pitching staff, from top to bottom, is one of the top three in the game, and the deal for Sean Casey will end up being the move everyone is talking about in early October.

White Sox: Though Chicago still has a hell of a team, the starting rotation has come back to earth in a huge way. More significant is that the Ozzie Guillen has angered the baseball gods one time too many. Karma’s a female dog, and it’ll be biting the ChiSox until they end up in third place.Twins: Smart to keep Torii Hunter. You don’t mess with great chemistry, and Hunter will get hot and help push the Twins past the White Sox before it’s all said and done.

Indians: The Tribe is the anti-Detroit. Nobody saw this season coming. Cleveland has too much talent to be this bad for long, though, so expect a bounce-back in 2007.

Royals: What, no takers for the dugout water cooler? What about Mark Redman? The man was an All-Star!!!

AL WEST

A’s: GM Billy Beane didn’t make a midsummer move for the first time since he took over, but if — and this is a big if — the team can avoid further injuries and gets Rich Harden back late in the year, they’ll be in the race to the wire. One more key player going down, however, will be the end of Oakland’s time near the top.

Angels: GM Bill Stoneman tried to get Tejada from the O’s but ended up getting nothing for the 37th consecutive season. If Bartolo Colon is out for an extended period of time, this team is in big trouble. The middle relief isn’t half of what it once was, and Colon does a nice job of hiding it. If Colon gets back soon, the Angels will surge into the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

Rangers: Carlos Lee, huh? Can he pitch? No? Then third place it is. Again.

Mariners: The standings say they’re contenders. What you see on the field most days says they’re not. Believe the latter.

Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com.Bay Area NewsLocal

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