And he appears to be approaching this season healthy and fine-tuned. In exhibition play, he has struck out 15 and walked one. In the uneven schedule, Halladay's biggest mental block is Boston. The Red Sox have beaten him 10 times, twice as often as any other team. (In the AL East alone, he is 35-12 against the three other clubs.)Justin Verlander, Tigers: If Detroit is as powerful a team as everyone expects after its productive offseason, the young right-hander should benefit from gaining overdue recognition -- and Cy Young votes. Last year he picked up one condescending fifth-place vote for going 18-6 -- and the year before had gone 17-9 for two fifth-place votes. Verlander has the benefit of a pitchers' park -- he is 18-7 lifetime in Comerica -- and has been remarkably consistent during his brief career. Unless the Tigers fall far short of expectations, they could propel him to 20 to 23 wins, which would be hard to overlook. Jered Weaver, Angels: Speaking of hitting the gate versus getting a delayed start: A year after not jumping in until the third week of the season because of a sore shoulder, Weaver might be Los Angeles' Opening Night starter. Coming off a spectacular Spring Training, that would further heighten his visibility and put him in a position to take advantage of the absences of Lackey and Escobar. Though exhibition wins are like small fish -- you toss them back in the pond -- Weaver's 5-0 Cactus League record and 1.33 ERA catch the eye. Having slightly altered his mechanics to reduce shoulder strain, Weaver says, "I'm starting to figure things out."
Considering his 24-9 record for a season-and-a-half in the bigs, that can't make the league feel too comfortable.Mark Buehrle, White Sox: The constant in the South Side shuffle -- double-figure wins and 200-plus innings for seven straight seasons -- could be primed for his best season yet. Now beyond the expiring-contract issues that a year ago were distracting both him and a team that depends on him for direction, Buehrle enters the season on a high note. Team success tends to sponsor individual honors. The White Sox are regarded as Central Division also-rans, so any breakthrough by them would boost Buehrle's chances, especially since he would figure prominently in that.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.