Although the Yankees finished first in the AL East in the 2011 season, the 2012 season may have a slightly different finale.
The Yankees have a justifiable positive outlook on the 2012 season. After all, the Bombers are coming off a 97-65 season in which they claimed the AL East and fell just short of a trip to the ALCS.
With the majority of the team's core players returning, the Yankees seem primed for a return to the playoffs.
Both the infield and outfield will remain essentially unchanged from the 2011 season to 2012. The infield will consist of Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, with Russell Martin at catcher.
In the outfield, the Yankees starters will be Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher, all of whom are expected to contribute in 2012.
In addition to an already established defense, the Yankees boast a high-powered offense. In 2011, Cano led the team in both batting average (.302) and hits (188). He also posted 28 home runs and 118 RBI.
Granderson has been the Yankees' stud at the plate, leading the team in home runs (41) and RBI (119), while finishing the season with a .262 batting average.
Switch-hitter Teixeira is another big bat on the team, compiling a .248 batting average with 38 home runs and 111 RBI in the 2011 season.
After the departure of A.J. Burnett, the Yanks signed veteran Raul Ibanez to a one-year, $1.1 million deal. His experience and success at the plate can really give the Bombers an extra boost on offense.
The Yankees also have Swisher, who led the team in OBP (.374), and the speedy Brett Gardner.
One of the team's biggest questions entering the 2012 season regards the performance of veterans Jeter and Rodriguez. After a rocky start, perhaps caused by the distraction of reaching the big 3,000-hit mark, Jeter managed to get back on track and finish off the season with a .297 batting average.
Rodriguez, however, is coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued season. Although he finished with a .276 batting average on the season, A-Rod played 99 games and only finished with 16 home runs— the lowest of his career as a starter.
The Yankees are hoping both Jeter and A-Rod will be able to rise to their usual expectations in 2012.
The pitching staff is where the Yankees made the most headlines this offseason. Most notably, the Yanks added right-hander Michael Pineda to their rotation after saying goodbye to top prospect Jesus Montero.
After various trades, acquisitions and departures, the starting pitchers going into the 2012 season are: CC Sabathia, Pineda, Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes. The Yanks also have Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Boone Logan, Cory Wade, Dellin Betances, George Kontos and, of course, Mariano Rivera in the bullpen.
New York definitely appears to have upgraded their arsenal of pitchers and stabilized the ship that was seemingly heading for turmoil.
So, after viewing the 2012 season outlook, you may be wondering how the Yankees could possibly finish third in the AL East.
The answer becomes more clear when we take a look at the rest of the division. First up are the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays finished the 2011 season at 91-71, earning a wild-card spot in the playoffs and falling to the World Series-contending Texas Rangers.
The biggest threat coming from the Rays is their pitching staff, which is only getting better from 2011 to 2012. The Rays have James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, Jeff Nieman and, of course, the young Matt Moore.
Shields is a workhorse, Price throws gas from the south side, Hellickson has pinpoint accuracy and Davis is a role player.
Lefty Moore is a rising star. In September 2011, Moore was being clocked at 97-98 MPH in a seemingly effortless display. He showed last season that he is capable of performing in the postseason, and his future success seems inevitable.
The "other" Rays pitcher, Nieman, has won at least 11 games in the past three seasons and isn't even considered a top-five pitcher on the squad.
At the plate, the Rays possess Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and B.J. Upton.
Expect the Rays to put forth a valiant effort in an attempt to dethrone the Yankees.
Next up, of course, are the rival Boston Red Sox. Initially favored to win the AL East in 2011, the Red Sox spun into a late-season downward spiral that resulted in the team losing 18 of their final 24 games.
After numerous chances to beat the Rays out for the wild-card slot, Boston faced a disappointing end to their season and earned a huge comfy spot on the couch to watch the playoffs from.
Despite the late-season implosion, the Bo-Sox still managed to finish with a record of 90-72. In the offseason, following the 2011 disappointment, Boston made headlines by signing former Mets and Rangers coach Bobby Valentine.
Although Valentine hasn't led an MLB team since 2002, his managerial skills and stern attitude could be just what the Red Sox need to ensure that their 2012 season doesn't end like the last.
Coach Valentine stirred the media up when he officially banned alcoholic substances from the clubhouse.
PR move or not, Valentine's actions display the commitment that he has to bettering the Red Sox organization. His ban on beer also sets a precedent that his team should take to heart: no messing around.
He may not necessarily have the best track record when it comes to winning games, but he also has never had a team as talented as this Red Sox club.
Boston is home to one of the most feared offenses in baseball. In the 2011 regular season, the Red Sox led the MLB in three major categories: runs (875), on-base percentage (.349) and slugging percentage (.461). In the only major category the the Bo-Sox didn't take first in, batting average, they finished in second (.280), only behind the Texas Rangers.
The Red Sox have an incredible amount of weapons at the plate. Adrian Gonzalez, perhaps one of the best hitters in baseball today, had an impressive (to say the least) debut with the Red Sox last season and is expected to continue his success in 2012.
In addition to Gonzalez, opposing pitchers have to worry about the bats of David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, all of whom batted over .300 last season.
Let's not forget about Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford, who performed under par in 2011 but have proven that they can be big contributors in the lineup.
Another advantage that the Red Sox have is youth. Gonzalez, Ellsbury and Pedroia are all going to be under 30 years old when the 2012 season commences.
The AL East is often seen as the Yankees' division to lose. In 2012, however, they may not have as much of a say in the outcome as what has come to be expected from Yankees fans.
The Yankees finished the 2011 season only six games ahead of the Rays and seven ahead of the Red Sox. Both teams will be hungry for revenge, and they both have the tools necessary to remove the gold divisional medal that the Yankees so often wear around their necks.
Within the AL East, the Rays surely have the best pitching staff, and the Red Sox statistically have the best offense. Where does that leave the Yankees?
Although I don't expect the Blue Jays or Orioles to have much to say about the outcome of the AL East in 2012, look for the Rays and Red Sox to present a huge threat to the Yankees as they try to lock up the division and once again secure a spot in the playoffs.
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