Back in Business: The American League East Rivalry Returns

Mike VendittiContributor IFebruary 27, 2009

The 2008 regular season ended with a new team in front of the AL East and the New York Yankees left out of the playoffs.  

Suddenly, the world was upside-down and nobody knew what to expect, because nobody saw it coming. Nobody except for me. And if you don't believe me, I can provide witnesses.

Fellow Red Sox fans who hate me for suggesting the impossible and being right, because after all, it was probably my fault our Sox didn't win the pennant. But with this being said;

Don't expect it to happen again in 2009.

Sure with key additions like Pat Burrell and Morgan Ensburg, the Rays are most likely going to hang around throughout the season, but something tells me the magic might be running short in Tampa.  

The Yankees were definitely the busiest team in the league this offseason as far as marque deals go, signing A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira. What might be key is how the Yanks were not busy.  Not re-signing big disappointments like Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu.

The Red Sox on the other hand were busy in the discount department.  Picking up veterans like Brad Penny, John Smoltz and Takashi Saito to bolster their already fairly deep pitching staff and adding Rhode Island's own Rocco Baldelli to be the teams fourth outfielder.  

These additions plus the long term contracts with Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia should sure up Boston's ability to contend for years to come.

Prediction time...remember, my predictions are obviously my opinion, take it for what it is.

The 2009 AL East will almost certainly be one of the greatest division races ever.  An instant classic, to put it in ESPN terms.  

I haven't made mention of the Toronto Blue Jays or Baltimore Orioles for one reason... this is almost guaranteed to be a three-way battle and these two squads will be left in the dust.

Don't be discouraged Jays and O's fans, rebuilding takes time...and money these days. The future could be good for you if your respective front offices decide to spend the necessary cash to compete, then again, Cito Gaston could pull off a miracle, you never know.

Now, back to the three heads of this beast in the East.  

Even with the major signings, and thefts, the Yankees have made this winter, look for the Red Sox to reclaim the Eastern crown when this thing is all said and done. The depth at starting pitcher and the bullpen aside, the bench includes experienced players like Mark Kotsay, Rocco Baldelli and Brad Wilkerson.  

Don't get me wrong, the Yankees aren't going to just roll over and die allowing their arch-rival to run away with the division.  They're almost a shoe-in for the playoffs whether it be through division or the wild-card.  

Look for Alex Rodriguez to struggle out of the gate with all of his outside drama weighing heavily on him, not to mention the New York media, which he really hasn't had to face yet.

Beyond A-Rod, the Yankees will have other problems. Starting with pitching.

On paper the staff looks pretty good, but lets get realistic. The Red Sox have notoriously hit Sabathia well, and let's face it, A.J.'s health is always in question...did the Yankee's sign another Carl Pavano.  

And trust me I know what you're probably thinking right now, what about the Red Sox signings. And you're right... what about them?

Brad Penny hadn't pitched off of a mound since September before throwing live batting practice the other day in Red Sox camp, and Smoltz might not be ready until June following an offseason shoulder surgery.  So what did these acquisitions really do for the Sox?

A lot.

Penny and Smoltz will not only add more experience to a fairly young staff, not counting Wakefield of course, they will provide manager Terry Francona with more options late in the season keeping everybody's arms rested for the postseason.

This can prove to be very helpful and you need not look any farther than last years ALCS for the reason why.  

Josh Beckett was very ineffective against the Rays and seemed to be out of gas late in the season.  Fatigue was also apparent in John Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka's appearances in the ALCS.

Now let me give you a few reasons to believe in what I'm telling you:

A. History tells us that teams that lose the World Series have trouble making the playoffs the next season and those that do rarely reach the World Series.  An obvious exception the Braves in 1992 one of the few to return to the fall classic after falling one year earlier.

But look at the past decade. The Yankees beat the Mets in 2000, the Mets returned in 2002 with a 73-89 record. The Giants in 2003, the Yankees in 2004 and the Cardinals in 2005 all reached the postseason and failed to return to the Series.  This being said, I count the Rays out of the postseason in 2009.

B. Baseball wants, whether secretly or publicly, another Red Sox versus Yankees ALCS. Especially Bud Selig. Nothing takes the heat off of him and the steroid scandal like the resurgence of the best rivalry in sports. And nothing keeps people across the country watching like blood, sweat and tears flowing on the diamond like it does in these intense games.  

Trust me, you may hate both teams, but you have to enjoy watching it!

C. Who can stop it?  Beyond this division, who's capable of knocking off one of these two teams in the playoffs?  The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (mouthful) missed their chance last year.  

Without K-Rod and Teixeira it'll be hard for them to keep up. Beyond that, the Central Division is pretty weak and will most likely have their champion limp into the playoffs after a long drawn out battle, but that's another story.

So what am I saying?  The obvious of course.  There WILL be a Red Sox/Yankees ALCS. And I'd venture to say that the winner of that series will go on to win the World Series, that is unless another miracle Marlins team shows up, but again another story... and trust me I'll get to that story soon.

And now...finally...

My Predicted AL East Final Standings:

1. Boston Red Sox- Look for David Ortiz and Josh Beckett to return to form and carry this squad.  Also look for quiet heroes, I would look at another J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis mid-season explosion and solid number all year from Pedroia.

2. New York Yankees- Wild Card- Big years for Teixeira and Sabathia, as well as yet another disappointing year from Robinson Cano. They're trouble, and they mean business.

3. Tampa Bay Rays-  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  Well Burrell beat them, so why join them?  His bat alone won't help the Rays keep up, but will help them compete.  I see them finishing a couple games behind the Yankees, and with a very good season from Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir.

4. Toronto Blue Jays-  Cito's gang is not quite unknown, but less known than they were.  Losing A.J. Burnett could be good, or bad, who knows.  Vernon Wells and Roy Halladay will continue to be all-stars, but that might be the only highlight of the Blue Jay's season.

5. Baltimore Orioles-  Signing Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts to long-term extensions was very smart.  So was trading for Rich Hill and George Sherrill.  But beyond that only the signings of Cesar Izturis and Mark Henderickson were newsworthy, and the rotation and bullpen looks very weak.

I will again remind you, my prediction is my opinion.  And yes, I have been wrong before... but how many people said Tampa could win the division last season?  I have witnesses baby, witnesses.


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