Toronto Blue Jays
Being a Toronto Boy, every year we’re faced with the same dilemma here: How to catch the Yankees and Red Sox.
We don’t need to beat both, just one. The Jays are coming off an 83-79 season, finishing third; 13 games behind the Red Sox and 11 behind the Yanks. A slight difference between 2006 when the Blue Jays racked up 86 wins finishing second.
Problematic Troy Glaus was traded to the Cardinals for Scott Rolen, who hopefully can fill that gap at the hot corner.
The Jays also picked up David Eckstein from the Cards, who will fill the infield in nicely with Aaron Hill at second and Lyle Overbay at first.
Russ Adams, John McDonald, and Marco Scutaro provide a reliable bench.
Toronto boasts one of its strongest pitching rotations in a while with ace Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan, and Shawn Marcum, leaving Jesse Litsch, who is coming off an impressive rookie season and Gustavo Chacin, who has been plagued with injuries for the last two seasons, fighting it out for the last rotation spot.
A strong bullpen including Jeremy Accardo, Casey Janssen, Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, Brendan League, and Brian Tallet. If B.J. Ryan gets healthy by opening day or some time soon after that’s also a plus for the Blue Jays.
Vernon Wells, who is coming off his worst season to date, needs to step up if the Blue Jays want to play postseason ball. A shoulder injury last year is said to be the cause for this, so hopefully Vernon can show that he’s worth $100 million to Toronto fans this year and post some big numbers.
Alex Rios has been improving steadily every year and this could be his breakout year. Watch for big things from this always exciting player. Frank Thomas can still knock the ball around and Matt Stairs is always clutch off the bench.
The signing of former Jay Shannon Stewart has caused some competition with Reed Johnson for left field this season.
New York Yankees
The biggest change isn’t the Yankees landing another high-end player, it’s the change of leadership with Joe Girardi taking over from Joe Torre.
We’ll see how much of a difference he can bring to this team that’s definitely not hurting for talent.
Love him or hate him, Alex Rodriguez puts up massive numbers every year, so look for them this year also. Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, and Melky Cabrera fill out the rest of a lineup that no pitcher really wants to see.
Out of all this talent and muscle, watch for Cano to have a major year.
The Yankees’ biggest weakness is their pitching. Aging and, according to some government papers, steroid user Andy Pettitte is not who he once was. Mussina is also far past his prime, but these two are also the only veterans on an inexperienced staff.
One strongpoint to this pitching staff though is Chien-Ming Wang, who went 19-7 last season with a 3.70 ERA. Other projected starters are Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain.
Much is expected from youngsters Chamberlain and Kennedy, who could possibly be the future of Yankee pitching.
The bullpen is weak, but I like Kyle Farnsworth. Mariano Rivera is still one of the strongest closers in the game. The game is usually put out of reach for the opposing team once the ball reaches his hand.
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox have a serious chance of repeating.
The BoSox remain a powerhouse with David Ortiz as the backbone to this could-be dynasty. Ortiz comes up with big numbers every year and is clutch for the Red Sox. He has hit 30-plus homers for the past five seasons, knocking in 642 runs in that time.
Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka, knuckle ball-king Tim Wakefield, and Jon Lester comprise a solid rotation. What makes this rotation much more deadly is the solid bullpen that backs it up.
Jonathan Papelbon is probably the best closer in the game and will be for years to come. Mike Timlin, though aging, shows he still can get the job done when called upon. Julian Tavarez and Kyle Snyder are also key elements.
Boston’s core line up remains strong with Kevin Youkilis probably getting the nod at first over Sean Casey. Julio Lugo, Dustin Pedroia, and Mike Lowell round out a strong infield, whose fielding is as impressive as its hitting.
Look for Manny Ramirez, Coco Crisp, and J.D. Drew in the outfield come opening day.
All in all, a very strong team that is a favorite to repeat its postseason glory of 2007.
Tampa Bay Rays
No longer the Devil Rays, Now Just the Tampa Bay Rays. Rays of sun I guess, judging by their new logo.
Tampa is a young team that got knocked around last year. Bright spots include Carlos Pena, who hit a career-high 46 home runs and 121 RBIs, while batting .282. Look for big things again from Pena.
The Rays sport an athletic outfield with Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, and Rocco Baldelli.
Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir, and James Shields are probably going to be the top three dogs and a choice of Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell, Andy Sonnanstine, or Edwin Jackson will attempt to fill the final two spots. Bullpen is not much of a strength and will hurt them late into games. Closing duties will go to Troy Percival.
This team will be a serious contender within the next few years, but not for this year. Other than big seasons from Pena, Kazmir and possibly Garza, I don’t expect much other than competition with the Orioles.
Jeremy Guthrie? Adam Loewen? Uh oh. Baltimore is in trouble.
Both have pitched under 250 innings in their careers. Loewen boasts a career record of 8-6, while Guthrie’s career numbers are set at 7-5, which were also his numbers for last year. These two youngsters are going to get rocked at the beginning of the season, but I’m sure they will come into their own by season’s end.
Daniel Cabrera, Troy Patton, and Garret Olson will round out a weak rotation.
Pitching doesn’t get any better in the bullpen. George Sherrill, who was acquired in the Bedard deal, has posted solid numbers throughout his short career and is the ray of hope. The rest of the bullpen is not up to standards and will get bombed all year long.
Nick Markakis has been posting good numbers in his two years in the majors. Got stiffed for money and will probably split when he’s able to test the free-agent waters. Will get what he’s looking for if he can keep playing the game he’s been playing. Will have another career year on a struggling team.
This is a team that isn’t going to win very much this year; no doubt about it. But, I always liked the way Oriole Park looked with the buildings behind the right field wall. All in all, the softest team in the East if not the American League. Look for a Cal Ripken-like streak, except of losing.
Predictions for the East
Boston will be on top of the East more than likely by a significant number.
If the Blue Jays can stay healthy, and key players can perform up to their expected standards, they can edge out the Yankees, who are beatable this year if you can drive in runs against them. Look for Tampa Bay to be behind them distantly. That leaves Baltimore in the cellar.
Boston is a force that will be looking to repeat last year’s World Series win and is in a position to do it. The Yankees, Blue Jays and even The Rays will have to be on the top of their games if they want to compete. The Projected Standings again are:
1 - Boston Red Sox
2 - Toronto Blue Jays
3 - New York Yankees
4 - Tampa Bay Rays
5 - Baltimore Orioles