Perpetual Post AL East Preview

STEPHON JOHNSON:If you’re like me (and hopefully you’re not) there’s no doubt that you’ve grown sick of all the talk in baseball about how the American League is better than the National League. I personally think that the National League is getting better and better by the year because they’re a younger league. The AL has more established stars.

And many of them are in the American League East.

While some divisions may be more competitive overall, the American League East is the best division in baseball in terms of sheer talent. The Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays might sit at the bottom of the barrel in the division, but that’s has to do more with playing in the same division as a Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Yes, the Tampa Bay Rays have done more with less resources, but unlike the NBA, it takes a long time to overcome bad decisions in baseball.

All five of these teams display a great amount of talent. Some more than others. In the end, however, only one can end the regular season on top. That answer shouldn’t be a surprise, but the answer to the wild card, which should come out of this division also, might surprise a few.

So without further ado:

NEW YORK YANKEES: The defending world champions come back with a squad that relatively unchanged since last year excusing the Johnny Damon for Curtis Granderson. What’s forgotten about last season is that the Yankees didn’t start off very well. C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett struggled from the gate and Mark Teixeira recieved the Bronx cheer a few times. It wasn’t until Alex Rodriguez came back that things got into full swing for the Bombers. This year the team comes with all parts assembled, but one has to worry about Granderson’s low batting average against lefties. Also, with former Yankee prospect Nick Johnson back in the fold, the Yankees are bound to use a few designated hitters this season going by Johnson’s past injury problems.

The starting rotation experienced a few changes at the bottom with the reacquisition of Javier Vasquez and Phil Hughes swapping places with Joba Chamberlain (who moved back to the setup man role). I’m not particularly thrilled by Vasquez’s presence (do the Yankees forget about 2004?), but he does eat up innings and is proven capable of great starts. Hughes’ temperament is better suited for the starting role and the Yanks shouldn’t worry too much about him.

Although most of the team is the same, this division won’t be a push over. The Yankees will still finish in first place, but not with a record close to last year’s. 2010 record: 94-68

BOSTON RED SOX: The Sawk have become much more of a defensive oriented squad haven’t they. Boston is looking to win this division with pitching and defense and while that should work well for the most part, all eyes should focus on David Ortiz. The DH is one of the few “Fenway hitters” left in the lineup and his bat becomes more important than ever when it’s projected to place 5th in the lineup surrounded by Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin, Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro. Pedroia is bound to see some lower offensive numbers than usual because of this lineup, Scuatro isn’t necesarrily known for his offense and Beltre remains a “let’s see” at best after a sub-par 2009. 

Most of the starting rotation remains unchanged with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka occupying spots, but the addtion of John Lackey to the thrid spot in the rotation should do wonder for Boston. But I don’t see them making the playoffs. I see them finishing third behind the Tampa Bay Rays. With the offense suffering just a bit this year, the Sox  will rely too much on their pitchers. Next off-season, expect them to land a big bat. 2010 prediction: 88-74.

TAMPA BAY RAYS: Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena are the first four hitters you have to face in this lineup. If you want, you can add Ben Zobrist and B.J. Upton to the mix and think of the first six hitters in Tampa’s lineup. They’re young, they’re filled with speed and power, they’re proven winners and they are going to win the wild card this season.

For the rotation, David Price is poised to have his breakout season in his early career, Matt Garza will hold fort and James Shields should come back from a slightly disappointing 2009. The Rays, while young, are now veterans in the winning business. They tasted the fruit in 2008, played for the first time as the hunted in 2009 and should use both lessons learned to make it back to the playoffs as the American League Wild Card. 2010 prediction: 92-70.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES: Baltimore is a young, hungry team with a lot of potential. They just happen to play in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays and therefore are relegated to the bottom of the AL East. With an outfield of Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis the Orioles should go out of their way to lock these guys up for the future. They’ll be the reason why people continue to come to the park. Brian Roberts and Miguel Tejada will continue to produce  and Matt Wieters’ star will rise.

The problem, as always with Baltimore, is the pitching. Jeremy Guthrie had a major setback last year with a 5.06 ERA and 17 losses. Before 2009, his highest ERA as a starter 3.70 in 2007. The lefty Brian Matusz will play his first full season in the big leagues this year, Brad Bergesen shows promise, but he’s too young to make real significant impact and Kevin Milwood’s veteran presence won’t be enough to pull these young guys up. They still have a lot to learn.

It’s painful to be an Oriole fan these days, but the non-pitching elements of the team  are worth heading out to Camden Yards for. You’ll want to say you were there when the team starting getting good. Don’t be a front runner. 2010 prediction: 73-89

TORONTO BLUE JAYS: Every year since about 2006 you heard that this was going to be the Blue Jays’ breakout season. This was the year they were going to present a challenge to Yankees/Red Sox powerhouses. By the time the All-Star Break hit, you realized that this was just another Blue Jays season. You won’t have to wait that long for the Blue Jays to peter out of contention. They’re already out of it.

A starting rotation of Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brian Tallet and Marc Rzepczynski isn’t going to scare anybody, the window on Vernon Wells seems to be closing and other than Adam Lind and Aaron Hill, there’s no light at the end of the Blue Jays’ tunnel. Lind and Hill deserve a better fate on a better team. Too bad it can’t happent this year. 2010 prediction: 65-97.

The Yankees are poised for another World Series run and the Rays should get a second shot at the playoffs this season. The Red Sox need another big bat, the Orioles have major upside (but will suffer another losing season) and Blue Jays fans can only look forward to Lind and Hill taking their swings. The AL East should be interesting.


The 2010 AL East race in a nutshell:

The veiling shadow that glowers in the East takes shape. The Yankees will suffer no rival. From the summit their eyes watch ceaselessly. But they are not so mighty yet that they are above fear. Doubt ever gnaws at them… the Yankees fear you – they fear what you may become. And so they will strike hard and fast at the world of men.
The power of the enemy is growing. They sense the Ring is close… you know this – you have foreseen it. In the gathering dark, the will of the Ring grows strong. It works hard now to find its way back into the hands of men – men, who are so easily seduced by its power. It is close now, so close to achieving its goal. For the Yankees will have dominion over all life on this Earth, even unto the ending of the world.
Also, look for a breakout year from Phil Hughes.

Red Sox

With the addition of John Lackey, the Red Sox starting rotation becomes significantly more irritating. Which is fine by me, as a Yankees fan, since in the last few years I’ve found the Sox a little too affable – difficult to work up a good healthy loathing towards. It was easy back in ’03 or ‘04, when the rivalry was at its latest peak. They had all those aggravating squat white goateed dudes – Nixon, Miller, Millar, Mueller. Now only Varitek is left, and he’s become too ineffective to really piss anybody off. But Lackey, one of those people who constantly breathes with his mouth wide open, can now join Josh Beckett in getting on everyone’s nerves, and maybe bring a little of that spiteful spice back to the proceedings. I also plan to continue resenting Marco Scutaro for absolutely no good reason other than he once had the nerve to hit a game-winning grand slam off of Mariano Rivera.

If you want to talk about actual, you know, on-field stuff, I suppose you could say the Yankees have the edge in offense, while the Sox have better fielding and maybe a slight pitching edge. But basically, as has been the case the past few years, I think whichever team has fewer major injuries wins.

Part of me misses the Devil Rays. Or I should say, I miss being able to make fun of them every year. Now they’re all good and young and inexpensive and well-run and stuff, there’s not much to work with; I’m half looking forward to watching David Price and Evan Longoria and the rest develop, and half itching to make a joke about their 63-person fan base. But at this point, if the Rays still aren’t drawing a crowd, it’s Florida’s fault, not theirs. It’s hard to see them beating Boston and New York to the playoffs this year but it certainly wouldn’t be shocking, which is am impressive change from a few short years ago.

If the Yankees are Godzilla and the Red Sox are Mothra, who are the Rays? I think that fight will play out more like this:

Baltimore Orioles
One of these years Baltimore is going to get good again, I’d welcome it – Orioles fans deserve better than what they’ve gotten the last few seasons, Camden Yards deserves better, and even Yanks/Sox/Rays fans forced to watch them play dozens of times a year deserve better – but with all due respect to Prodigal O Miguel Tejada, I don’t think this is going to be that year.

Toronto Blue Jays:

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