Friday, April 2, 2010

Prediction and Preview Time - AL East

It's that time of year again. The pretenders (the non-Chrissie Hynde Pretenders) will fall by the way side and the cream of the baseball crop will rise to the top. Time for some AL and NL previews and some post-season award predictions.

AL East

Why not start off with the toughest division in baseball - no, not the NL Central. The AL East is the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. <--Period. Forget the Orioles. Forget the Blue Jays. They aren't going to sniff first place once the calendar turns to May. It likely it won't even take that long, but you can be tied for first with 1-0 mark. The Yankees have plenty on the line and some significant changes from last season. Gone are Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, two components of the team's 27th world championship. Added is Javier Vazquez to strengthen a solid rotation. Phil Hughes won a battle for the 5th starter spot, meaning Joba Chamberlain will be working out of the bullpen on a full-time basis.

Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson try to fill the void left by Damon and Matsui and the Yankees have a healthy Alex Rodriguez to start the season.

Question marks surround left field where Brett Gardner and Randy Winn will share most of the time, Johnson's health (that's unsavory sounding no matter how you spell it out), the lack of a veteran backstop for Jorge Posada, and the overall aging of a lot of the key players on the team.

The Red Sox had a 7-0 series advantage over the Yankees at one point last season. But April baseball doesn't make title winners. The Sox won 95 games, but still finished a distance eight games behind their NY rivals. Then came a three game sweep at the hands of the LA Angels, a team Boston normally manhandled in the post-season, in the wildcard series.

Injuries started to take their toll as the regular season wore on and still have some impact as the team enters the 2010 season. Starter Daisuke Matsuzaka will start the season on the DL and perennially injured Mike Lowell is hurting again.

To bolster the rotation, the Red Sox threw a load of money at veteran right-hander John Lackey, who will join Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Tim Wakefield as the team breaks camp and heads north.

Beckett is the key to the Red Sox season. After a blazing start to the '09 season, he faltered down the stretch and regularly served up gopher balls. If healthy and consistent, Beckett, Lackey, and Lester are the best 1-2-3 punch in all of baseball.

The offense has taken a hit with the departure of Jason Bay and needs a re-emergence fromDavid Ortiz if the Sox are going to win the AL East or wildcard. Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron could provide some spark, but the Sox will have the third best offense of the AL East "Big 3". Having Victor Martinez for a full season will certainly help.

Defensively, the Sox made a good move in bringing in Marco Scutaro to play shortstop and have a tremendous defensive infield. Cameron's acquisition allows the Red Sox to move the shaky glove of Jacoby Ellsbury to left field.

The Rays fell apart one year after winning the AL pennant. Just 84 wins left Tampa Bay in third place and in the dust. But this team should rebound this season. They had a positive start by winning 19 Spring Training games and B.J. Upton is healthy.

Upton's attitude came under fire at times last season, but his bad shoulder was more of a problem than his head. Evan Longoria is a stud and the Rays get regular contributions from Ben Zobrist, Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, and Jason Bartlett.

The Rays starting rotation may not have the pedigree of the Yankees and Red Sox pitchers, but Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, and James Shields are a solid front three. 2008 #1 pick David Price and outstanding prospect Wade Davis round out the rotation.

The Rays' bullpen, so magnificent in '08, was a model of inconsistency last season. Tampa Bay has brought in veteran Rafael Soriano to take over the closer role. Soriano's ability is not in question, but keeping him healthy and on the field is. The Rays have to hope that solid lefty J.P. Howell isn't out too long with a tired left shoulder.

Crawford's pending free agency could be another issue as the season wears on. It's unlikely the Rays will be able to retain him after this season, so do they trade him in-season? If so, uber prospect Desmond Jennings may get a 2010 call up.

AL East stories from Toronto and Baltimore worth watching:

1. The progress of Matt Wieters at and behind the plate for the Orioles. After a slow start, Wieters hit well down the stretch and showed the power he is capable of producing.

2. The Blue Jays don't have Roy Halladay in the rotation for the first time since 2001. The Yankees are surely glad he's over in the NL.

3. Shaun Marcum's return to the Jays' rotation. Marcum pitched under the radar in putting up back to back solid years in 2007-08. Then came Tommy John surgery and many months of recovery. Marcum has worked his way back and has been rewarded with the opening day start for Toronto.

4. Will Brian Roberts' back problems be resolved or will he miss a good chunk of the season? Anyone who has ever suffered back pain knows how debilitating it can be. Roberts is suffering from a herniated disk that has limited his playing time this spring. The Orioles have brought in veteran Julio Lugo as a backup.

And the division winner is.......

The Yankees. Some would call it bias, but I see the Yankees winning the AL East once again with....the Rays finishing just ahead of the Red Sox for second place and the wildcard. But hey, what do I know.

No comments:

Post a Comment