MLB 2012 Season Preview: AL East
The American League East is baseball's deepest division. With three top tier teams in Boston, New York and Tampa Bay, a division winner could come from anywhere.
As we enter the 2012 season, it's time turn our attention towards previews.
With the AL East as good as it is, this is going to be an incredibly exciting 2012 season. Here's an inside look into the five teams with predictions for who comes out on top.
5. Baltimore Orioles
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Stagnant bats and decrepit pitching is the best description for the Baltimore Orioles.
What was once a team looking to right the ship, they're now sinking.
The lineup has a moderately strong middle of the order of J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters. Everyone after is a wash, and there's a huge gap at the lead off spot.
Without a turn around from Brian Matusz, the rotation is lacking. Zach Britton could be the only bright spot, but even then I wouldn't expect ace like numbers.
Anything other than a repeat of last year's record would be surprising.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
It's not Toronto's fault that they play in a very crowded AL East. In any other division they'd be a sure fire contender to win the division
Their lineup is stacked. They've got the leagues best slugger in Jose Bautista, as well as a great up-and-comer in Brett Lawrie. Don't forget prospects Travis d'Arnaud and Athony Gose, who are paving their way to the majors.
Despite having one of the division's better bullpens, starting pitching continues to hinder the Blue Jays.
Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow are top notch arms, but things get muddled after them. Toronto has some upside arms in Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek. Their development will be a key factor for success in 2012.
The Blue Jays have a great team, but this won't be their season. However, with their packed farm system, a turn-around is on its way.
3. Boston Red Sox
Boston's September collapse was disastrous, and the fallout from the 2011 season was one of the worst in team history. Do things look any better in 2012?
Despite struggles from Carl Crawford, missed time from J.D. Drew, and injuries to Kevin Youkilis, the 2011 Boston Red Sox held the title of the best offense in baseball.
They retain their core of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz. Then there's bounce-back candidates Carl Crawford and Kevin Youkils. Who can forget minor leauge prospects Ryan Lavarnway, Ryan Kalish and Will Middlebrooks?
In other words, this deep lineup is the AL East's best.
But, as we all know offense isn't the problem.
The BoSox spent the offseason revamping their bullpen, and they did a heck of a job. The real problem has always been starting pitching—something new GM Ben Cherington failed to address.
Boston enters the season with a strong front three in Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz. After that things seem to taper off, with bullpen arms Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves possibly getting the No. 4 and 5 nod.
Despite a top-heavy pitching rotation and potent offense, it wont be enough to win this division. Boston will put up a good fight, but, for the second season in a row, they'll fall short.
2. New York Yankees
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While Boston was sleeping on starting pitching, the New York Yankees were turning up the heat.
Offensively, this is a tough team to out-hit. They posses an odd blend of studs (Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner) and aging veterans (Derek Jeter, Alex Rodrigez and Mark Teixeira).
Its difficult to pinpoint which group of guys is going to dominate the production levels. But, at a ballpark like Yankee Stadium, they'll score plenty of runs.
New York's biggest competitive advantage to their mega-rival has to be pitching.
For a while, it looked like the Bronx Bombers would be joining Boston in the trenches of mediocrity. Then, with a series of savvy baseball moves, they pulled out one of the most productive weekends of the offseason.
During that weekend, New York not only acquired Michael Pineda (from the Seattle Mariners for Jesus Montero), but also signed Hiroki Kuroda. A rotation that once employed A.J. Burnett as its No. 2 was suddenly reborn.
Add in back of rotation arms like Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes and you have a team primed for a playoff run.
This redesigned Yankees squad will be a competitor, but the division crown will remain just out of reach.
1. Tampa Bay Rays
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In the deepest division in baseball, one team shines above them all.
If the obvious word usage didn't give it away, we're talking about the Tampa Bay Rays.
Besides attendance, this teams biggest issue has been scoring runs. The problem hasn't been 100 percent fixed, but they've taken steps to make it better.
First off, they get a whole season from Desmond Jennings (aka Carl Crawford 2.0). They've also added gold glove/power bat Carlos Pena (who had some great seasons in Tampa) and a competent DH in Luke Scott.
The rest of the lineup is anchored by a returning core of Evan Longoria (the best third baseman in baseball), lifetime underachiever B.J. Upton and super-utility, five-tool player, Ben Zobrist.
Tampa's true dominance comes from their pitching. They feature an elite top three of David Price, James Shields, and 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson. Rounding out the bunch are Wade Davis, and potential 2012 Rookie of the Year Matt Moore.
This is a deep rotation with four elite arms. The bullpen's not too shabby either. With their stacked farm system, the arms go even deeper.
Tampa doesn't feature the best offense in the AL East, but they're good enough. Combined with the best rotation in the division and gold glove defense, it's hard to see any other team taking the AL East.
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1. Tampa Bay Rays: they'll ride their stellar pitching into the postseason.
2. New York Yankees: revamped pitching gives a strong competitive edge, but Tampa's is better.
3. Boston Red Sox: they'll stay in it all season, but lack of rotational depth will be crippling.
4. Toronto Blue Jays: any other division and they'd be in the mix.
5. Baltimore Orioles: are you there baseball Gods? It's me, Buck...