Wednesday, February 16, 2011

At First Glance: AL EAST

At First Glance American League East:

Pitchers and catchers have reported, it’s time for some hot stove league action!

I will list the teams alphabetically by division then give my prediction at the end of each division!

Baltimore Orioles

There is a lot to be hopeful for in the Charm City this season. Albeit a last place finish is still very likely the O’s will be much more competitive and fun to watch. The club made some great additions by signing or trading for Mark Reynolds, Kevin Gregg, Vlad Guerrero, JJ Hardy and Derrek Lee. That’s ¾ of there starting infield a DH and a closer or at worst a set-up man. This will alleviate the pressure to perform that was placed on young players such as Matt Wieters and Adam Jones last year. Those two can settle into the bottom third of the lineup and let the vets take on the pressure. Brain Roberts, the other quarter of the INF will also be back and healthy. Place Luke Scott and Nick Markakis in the corner OF spots and this is a very good looking, veteran-filled lineup. If this was 2007 this team would be world champs. But at the least with Buck Showalter at the helm, this team will not be a laughingstock any longer.

The pitching staff is young but suspect. Matusz, Bergeson and Arrieta should have good productive years, but can vets like Guthrie and Duchscherer carry the load when innings need to be eaten? The bullpen looks to be in good shape despite the forced departure of Alfredo Simon. Both Koji Uehara and Kevin Gregg have previous experience closing games last year in the AL East.

Grade C+

Boston Red Sox

The Sox landed the two biggest fish in the sea of winter meeting transactions with the trade for Adrian Gonzalez and the signing of Carl Crawford. That alone will propel them to a much greater winning PCT then last year and I believe to a playoff berth. Remember the collapsible bullpen last year? Add Wheeler and Jenks, two top late innings pitchers, problem solved. It’s hard to think of any team that did better in the winter months then Boston. But will it be enough to win in the Fall? The Red Sox scored the second most runs in the AL last year without Gonzo, Carl and for much of the year Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. Add those four in and its easy to say bye bye to VMart and the other Adrian (Beltre). If the annually disappointing Jarrod Saltalamacchia can hit his weight (235) and keep the pitching staff on course, this team will do big things.

Starting pitching is where the Sox could have issues. A rotation with Dice-K at the back can’t be all bad, unless it also has a few other let down typical starters like Josh Beckett and John Lackey in it. Clay Buchholz can hardly hope to match his output from last year either, so a lot rests on John Lester. Sorry Sox fans, this team looks more like the prototypical Yankees teams, all brawn and no brains this year. However, it appears the team with “the most bats” will win this division and possibly the AL if a few of the mediocre starters can put together better than average seasons. It won’t take much to win 12-14 games with this offense behind you every night!

Grade: A

New York Yankees

I was a bit hard on the Red Sox rotation as an “over-the hill gang” type of staff…well they may be more seasoned, but they are all possible 15 game winners . The Yankees? Yikes! Looks like the money ran out when George passed away. The Yankees have needed help for quite some time at starting pitching, but yet once again none has come. Freddy Garcia was the best signing of the offseason. Yep, Freddy Garcia. You may argue that Russ Martin was better, but not when you have Jesus Montero ready to take the reigns. Perhaps Rafael Soriano, closer turned set-up man, I would be OK with that argument. But the most notable arriving transaction for the Yankees after these three (Garcia signed a minor league contract by the way), are so bad they should not even be mentioned. (Eric Chavez, Bartolo Colon, Ronnie Belliard!)I can hear Yankee fan now saying “we didn’t need that much help, we were already good!” To which I say, did you notice the rest of the division? Standing pat might work in the other two AL divisions, but not in the East. The other teams have all closed the gap this season (except the Rays), and I believe more than one will stretch the gap and have the Yanks playing catch-up all year.

Yes the Yankees have a great lineup. But they have one pitcher that is a proven commodity at the beginning of ball games. ONE. If C.C. goes down, that would make ZERO! Unless ARod, Cano, or Jeter can log 150 innings, the Yankees will be fortunate to be in third place.

Grade: B

Tampa Bay Rays

Ouch. I can hear a pin drop. Oh its because I’m at Tropicana field. The place was empty when the Rays were good, I fathom to think what it will look like this season. The Who or Billy Ray Cyrus will probably draw more fans! The Rays lost 7 of there top 8 relievers from last season, their best pure slugger (Carlos Pena) and one of their two franchise players (Carl Crawford) to free agency. That means they got basically nothing for any of those players, and worse still close to half of them ended up on divisions rivals! This could be one of the worst off-seasons ever for a pro sports franchise short of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The only bright spot is the young group of stud starting pitchers that the Rays have assembled. But unless they can throw shut-outs against the high octane lineups in the AL East, the Rays will be smelling the fumes of the other cars in the division. It will be a long year.

Grade: C-

Toronto Blue Jays

No team is as hard to predict as the Blue Jays. 257 HR’s will not be realistic with the departure of Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells and the slim chance of Jose Bautista hitting 54 again. But the Jays are sure to add some pop from Travis Snyder, Adam Lind and Aaron Hill, the last two having down years at the plate. Adding Raj Davis in CF will be a huge boost to the team speed and look for Yunel Escobar to make a notable climb on the stat sheet. The team is deep in the pen even though they enter spring training with no clear cut closer, they have 3 guys who closed games last season. (Rauch, Francisco and Dotel).

Starting pitching is a crap shoot. Can Romero and Morrow continue to solidify their standing as top of the rotation pitchers? The Jays seem to think so as they allowed Shaun Marcum to walk and gave Romero a nice contract. It will be a year of growing for the Jays, but at least they seem to have a winning strategy, invest in young players and watch them learn as a group. I see at least a third place finish for the Blue Jays this season. They will surprise many people.

Grade: B-

Final standings: Boston, Toronto, New York, Baltimore, Tampa Bay: No Wild card teams.

I believe Boston will win by 10 games and Toronto and New York will be in the hunt for the wild-card all season with Toronto edging out the Yanks by two games, but losing out on the wild card. Baltimore will also finish the year at around .500 a marked improvement. The Rays will be back where they spent the first decade of their existence, in the AL EAST cellar, don't worry the Orioles kept it warm.

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