MLB Preview 2012: Predicting the American League East Division

Chris Schad@@crishadContributor IIIMarch 23, 2012

MLB Preview 2012: Predicting the American League East Division

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    The American League East division can be considered the division that changed Major League Baseball. In 2012, MLB will go to an all-new playoff format that has the two non-division-winning teams battle it out for a wild-card berth.

    For years, the old format resulted in both the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox battling for the AL East and the wild-card spots, with the Tampa Bay Rays scattered in the mix.

    This left fans of the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays frustrated, as they had to play those three teams 19 times apiece compared to the rest of the AL that had to play them six-to-10 times apiece. The Orioles and Blue Jays were at a disadvantage.

    Now, the Orioles and Jays have a slight bit of hope. If they can overtake just one of the big three in the division, they have a legitimate shot at the playoffs, playing in the toughest division in baseball.

    Can the Orioles and Blue Jays compete in a stacked division? The new playoff format is about to let us find out.

5. Baltimore Orioles

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    I may be answering this question very quickly, but just because the Baltimore Orioles have a chance to compete for the postseason doesn't mean they are ready.

    The best thing going in Baltimore right now might be the decision to switch the realistic looking Oriole on their caps to a likeness of "The Oriole Bird" with the two-toned black and white background.

    Other than that, it looks like another season of being the doormat in the American League East.

    Despite the presence of solid players such as Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, the Orioles don't have a lot in the pitching department to compete with the rest of the division.

    Jake Arrieta is currently tabbed to be the Opening Day starter, but he had an earned run average north of five last season. The Orioles will also hope that Brian Matusz and a plethora of young arms realize their potential.

    This dearth of pitching should cost the Orioles dearly, to the point of J.J. Hardy's bombs not being able to save them from a last-place finish.

4. Toronto Blue Jays

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    Speaking of switching back to new, awesome, old-school-looking uniforms, the Toronto Blue Jays have gone back to the look that netted them the 1992 and 1993 World Series championships.

    Aside from having what could be the sweetest uniforms in baseball, the Blue Jays could also be called the most fun team to watch in Major League Baseball.

    Their hitting approach can be summed up in two words: bombs away. Jose Bautista leads the hit parade, but now he has running mates in Colby Rasmus (who was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals last year) and Brett Lawrie (who has been tearing the cover off the ball in spring training).

    Even the pitching for the Blue Jays could be markedly improved, as Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow will look to find some consistency at the top of the Jays rotation. The Jays even bolstered their bullpen with the addition of Sergio Santos from the Chicago White Sox.

    All of these aspects make good reasons that the Blue Jays could break out and topple one of the big three in the AL East this season. I don't believe they're good enough to make a World Series run but, like I said earlier, they'll be a lot of fun to watch.

3. Boston Red Sox

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    Could the Red Sox be entering the Curse of Theo? I highly doubt it, but this season the Red Sox took a different approach to free agency, which has left them with several holes that will need to be filled by Opening Day.

    The biggest concern for the Red Sox is their pitching staff. The Red Sox had a ton of allegations toward the end of 2011 that some feel cost them the wild card. The issues in the clubhouse are now nothing as to who is going to pitch at the back of their rotation.

    The Red Sox first tried to acquire Matt Garza from the Chicago Cubs, and that didn't work out. Then they tried to convert Daniel Bard into a starter, which failed as well. The Red Sox signed several veterans to try and work out for the back of the rotation. So far, that has had mixed results.

    In other words, the Red Sox could be first in line when Roy Oswalt decides to end his half-season vacation.

    The concerns also stretch to the lineup. Although they have some of the best hitters in the game, there could be worry that some of them have hit their ceiling. David Ortiz's demise is being predicted again this year, and Kevin Youkilis will need to rebound from a subpar season in 2011 as well.

    (An even bigger question could be whether Jacoby Ellsbury is what he was last season, or if he put together a 2009 Joe Mauer-like season. Food for thought.)

    The Red Sox always seem to have assets to fix their problems, so maybe all these red flags are for nothing. I think they'll be in the race, but don't be surprised if the Toronto Blue Jays make the leap to third place over the Sox this season.

2. New York Yankees

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    If there's a team that deserves the award for the most shocking offseason, it's the New York Yankees. First, they didn't sign a big-name free agent—a rarity for the Bronx Bombers. However, the real shocker for the Yankees offseason was the trade of Jesus Montero.

    Montero was considered to be the Yankees' top prospect and catcher of the future, but concerns grew that he would not be a good defensive catcher. So, the Yankees traded him to the Seattle Mariners for budding ace, Michael Pineda.

    Pineda was enough alone to bolster the Yankees rotation, but then came the news of Andy Pettitte making a comeback. Honestly, I still don't know what to say about it because the move has so many question marks.

    Will Pettitte be a reliable starter after taking a full year off from baseball? How much will his presence help/hurt the Yankees' young starters? Whose spot will he take in the Yankees rotation?

    The Pettitte return could be the key to the Yankees season, as they still return most of their potent lineup from a year ago to compliment the most dominant closer in baseball, Mariano Rivera.

    As always, there never seems to be a dull moment in the Bronx.

1. Tampa Bay Rays

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    The Tampa Bay Rays might have done more to promote the case of a third wild-card team than anyone else in baseball last year. Their late-season comeback to take out the Boston Red Sox ranks as one of the greatest baseball storylines in recent memory.

    Baseball wanted similar drama to what the Rays provided in 2011 every year, so they added the fifth playoff team. But can the Rays get back to provide the similar ending for their fans in 2012?

    They have the talent to do so. The Rays are a lot like the San Francisco Giants in that they have outstanding pitching. Matt Moore could be the breakout player of the year in all of baseball, and he's their fifth starter. There's no off-day if you're facing this team, and that alone will give the Rays a chance to compete.

    What the Rays have that the Giants don't, is legitimate offense. It could be because they're playing in a hitter-friendly domed stadium, but it could also be that they have one of the best third basemen in baseball in Evan Longoria, to go with young talent that they're developing in their farm system.

    With the talent that the Rays have on both sides of the diamond along with the great leadership of Joe Maddon, they'll have a chance to capture an AL East championship, where the Yankees won't claim it was handed to them.