In 2009, the American League East will once again garner more attention than the other divisions in baseball. With the Tampa Bay Rays coming off their improbable run to the World Series, the enormous offseason additions made by the New York Yankees, as well as the Boston Red Sox—the only team to win two World Series titles since 2000.
Yes, the next six and a half months are going to be quite a roller coaster ride, as it appears the AL East will be a three horse race right up to the end.
Tampa Bay Rays
Unless you were a fan of one of the other four teams in this division, it was hard to root against the Rays as they made their incredible run to the 2008 World Series.
This was a team that, since its inaugural season in 1998, had never finished a season with even a .500 record. Tampa fans have had to deal with 10 losing seasons, one of the least attractive stadiums in baseball, some hideous uniforms at times, and even a name change from Devil Rays, to Rays.
But, despite losing in the World Series, most Tampa fans will tell you it was all worth it, as they hope to return to the Fall Classic this season, with a different outcome.
Why they will win the East: What is there to not like about this team? They have a very good offense, an adequate bullpen, and solid starting pitching 1-5.
Not to mention they brought in slugger Pat Burrell (who coincidentally had a hand in beating the Rays in the World Series) to be their designated hitter. BJ Upton and Evan Longoria are superstars in the making, and they have one of the best young rotations in all of baseball.
Why they won’t win the East: There are three legitimate teams in this division, so none of them can really be favored to win the division. So despite the young talent, they have their work cut out for them if they want to edge out both Boston and New York.
The Rays could find themselves struggling a little bit if Scott Kazmir can’t stay healthy and if prized rookie David Price finds himself hitting some bumps in the road in his first full season as a big leaguer.
Their bullpen isn’t among the best in baseball, but it has a number of veterans that know how to win. It is probably their weakest area as a team though, so if it suffers, the Rays could too.
Toronto Blue Jays
If this team was in a different division, they could potentially have a shot at competing for a playoff spot. Unfortunately for them, they play in the AL East, and just don’t have enough on the roster to do what it takes to win enough games.
Why they will win the East: I hate not being able to give at least one reason that every team has to have a shot at winning their division. But sadly for Jays fans, their beloved team just doesn’t have a chance in 2009. They have an assortment of good players, but they just can’t stack up against the elite from the division.
Why they won’t win the East: Roy Halladay is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, hands down. Jesse Litsch, David Purcey, Scott Richmond, and Casey Janssen are not some of the best pitchers in the game.
In fact, with the possible exception of Litsch, none of them are probably even in the top 100. That will spell doom, considering they must face the three top teams in this division for a combined 54 games.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox might be the most complete team in the East. They might lack a little bit of talent or flair compared to Tampa Bay, but this team as a whole appears to be the most well-rounded team in their division.
Why they will win the East: The Sox may not have quite the same power on offense as Tampa, but they have just as much, or more, tough outs in their lineup. With the exception of Jason Varitek, and perhaps Julio Lugo, the Red Sox lineup is stacked with guys that are tough outs.
Not to mention, they have one the best rotations in all of baseball. I believe Brad Penny is key for them. If he can regain form from a couple of years ago, he is hands down the best fifth starter in baseball. Even if he struggles, the rest of the staff as well as the Sox offense, should be able to overcome it.
The Red Sox also boast one of the best bullpens in all of baseball, and if their starters can get them through the fifth inning, and the sixth for sure, teams will be in trouble.
Why they won’t win the East: The loss of Manny Ramirez had a huge effect on David Ortiz. He simply was not one of the best hitters in the game after Ramirez left.
I realize he dealt with injuries for nearly the entire season, but nonetheless taking a player of Ramirez’s caliber out of the lineup will affect Big Papi. As usual, the health of Josh Beckett will also play a major role, but I believe the Sox may struggle if JD Drew is inconsistent at the plate.
The Orioles have a fairly young team with some talented players, but they just don’t stand much of a chance going up against three of the best teams in baseball.
Why they will win the East: Like Toronto, I just don’t have any reasons that the Orioles have a shot at this division. However, unlike Toronto, even if the Orioles played in another division, they would not be overly competitive. There just is not enough talent on offense or in the rotation for this team to be very good.
Why they won’t win the East: An average offense at best, and below average starting pitching and bullpen. Unfortunately for Orioles fans, this once proud organization is headed for another season as the AL East cellar dweller.
New York (bleeping) Yankees
It is extremely hard not to be biased when it comes to the Yankees, whether you hate them or love them.
I could learn to stand them if they didn’t continuously buy all their players. At one point last year, Alex Rodriguez was making more money than the ENTIRE FLORIDA MARLINS TEAM!
Add in their offseason additions of Mark Teixiera, C.C. Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett, and I become dizzy just looking at the enormous sums of money being tossed around.
But, due to the structure of baseball's salary cap (or lack there-of), the Yankees aren’t doing anything wrong and so to the disappointment of many, they will be allowed to participate in the 2009 season.
Why they will win the East: Money. If they win the East, it is because of money. It is because they brought in two of the better pitchers in baseball, and a top 10 hitter.
Assuming Alex Rodriguez doesn’t miss extended time due to the recent reports of a hip injury, the Yankees offense will once again be one of the most talented in baseball. Their pitching also will be very good, if Wang and Joba are able to stay healthy.
Why they won’t win the East: I believe their bullpen is a weak spot. If they can’t hold the lead, especially in their 36 games against Boston and Tampa, they could have a rough time winning the division.
Granted, their offense may be able to score enough runs to the point it doesn’t matter how bad their bullpen is.
However, if their offense continues to somewhat underachieve as it has in recent years, along with the iffy bullpen, the Yankees may very well find themselves at home watching the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Well, as tough as it is to figure out, here are my predictions for the 2009 AL East standings. There is no doubt many will disagree with me, but that is the beauty of the preseason!
1. I have to finally jump on the bandwagon and take Tampa to win their second straight division title.
2. I’ll take some heat for this, but I’ll take the Yankees No. 2. I believe they are finally going to get things going, and I believe their starting pitching is finally good enough.
3. Toronto. OK, I kid, I will take Boston here obviously. Honestly, I won’t be surprised if Boston finishes No. 1 or No. 2, but as of this minute, I am putting them third.
Let the debating begin!