By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
With Opening Day right around the corner, now is the time to look back on the efforts each team made to prepare themselves for 2009. Today’s team previews are from the AL East.
Boston Red Sox: A Game 7 loss to division rival Tampa Bay sent the Red Sox home after the American League Championship Series. To not consider the season a success would be foolish, as they managed success despite losing David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, Josh Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka at some point during the season.
The Red Sox must have felt they had the team they wanted during the season, with only minimal movement, adding pitchers John Smoltz and Brad Penny, while losing Coco Crisp. This is also the first full season they will play with Jason Bay and without Manny Ramirez. Even without Ramirez, they should still boast a formidable lineup behind Ortiz and 2008 MVP Dustin Pedroia.
The Red Sox have one of the deepest pitching rotations, even without Smoltz until June. They boast Beckett, John Lester, Dice-K (who is looking for a breakout year), knuckler Tim Wakefield, and either Penny, Bucholz, or Smoltz. In the bullpen, the team still has one of the most dominant closers in Jason Papelbon, and formidable relief in Hideki Okajima and second year player Jason Masterson, who wowed the team during his rookie campaign. If they weren’t in the toughest division, the playoffs would be guaranteed, but for now, they will have to fight it out, but, health providing, the Red Sox look like a team ready to return to the World Series.
New York Yankees: Missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, the Yankees knew changes were going to have to be made. They did just that, opening the wallet to the tune of over $400 million dollars in contracts.
CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixiera are the big three to be wearing pinstripes in 2009, but the Yankees did say goodbye to Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, and Mike Mussina. However, while the hitting staff is still formidable, they are much older. Hideki Matsui is injury-prone at 34 and is now the DH. Jorge Posada’s knees aren’t getting any better being a 37-year old catcher. Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano, and Derek Jeter are all too, starting to decline slightly. It will be up to Teixiera, Alex Rodriguez (when he returns from his injury in June), Xavier Nady, and Nick Swisher to pick up the slack for the older generation.
Thanks to the $200 million plus, the Yankees easily form one of the most dominant rotations in recent history. Even with the retirement of Mike Mussina, Sabathia, Burnett, Chen Ming-Wang, Andy Pettite, and Joba Chamberlain form a tough staff. Mariano Rivera is still throwing in the bullpen, but he’s starting to lose that zip, and with a relief staff that’s not exactly the strongest, the expectations will be high for the starting five.
Tampa Bay Rays: The defending American League Champions must have done the right thing by dropping the “Devil” from their names. With a core nucleus of young players, they didn’t make too many big splashes in the offseason, adding Gabe Kapler and Pat Burrell, and lost only Eric Hinske, Edwin Jackson, and Cliff Floyd.
Evan Longoria is looking to make strides in his first full season up in the big leagues, and leads a potent lineup. B.J. Upton had a quiet regular season, but broke out in the postseason, and is looking to carry that over. The speed of Carl Crawford should be a display for the eyes, and the bats of Carlos Pena and Burrell should knock in plenty of runs for the Rays.
While there is plenty to talk about with the bats, it’s the pitching that keeps everyone’s focus in Tampa Bay. While young David Price is going down to Triple-A to start, he will be back, looking to duplicate the success he had in the postseason. Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and Matt Garza all had dominant 2008s, and the 2009 season will succeed or fail at their hands. The bullpen is hoping for another strong run, but that will depend on the health of Troy Percival. If he starts to falter, look for Dan Wheeler to get the call. The Rays won’t surprise anyone like they did in 2008, but an added year of experience should help this team try to get some more postseason success.
Baltimore Orioles: The bottom rung of the AL East, the Orioles youth will learn plenty in 2009. Of course, that will be plenty about losing. They kept up the youthful appearance in the offseason, but brought in veterans Ryan Freel and Greg Zaun, but lost out on Kevin Millar and Jay Payton.
Some of the biggest moves, came from within, keeping Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts, along with George Sherril. With that, the team boasts some great potential, but the fans have to be patient. Matt Wieters could be a breakout star for the team when he gets called up. Aubrey Huff is the key veteran for this squad, and will have to show them a thing or two. If they get hot and keep it up, who knows.
The biggest weakness of the team has to be the pitching rotation. Outside of Jeremy Guthrie, it’s real hard to expect much from the rest of the starting five. Mainly, they will be expected to be a stop gap until the younger guys can bring themselves up. However, the team does have a strong bullpen, led by Sherrill and Chris Ray. Jim Johnson is a top notch setup man, and if the starting rotation can keep them in a few games, the bullpen could easily hold a lead or two and turn some potential losses into wins.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays are another team that are just in the wrong division. They could succeed in an area like the NL West, but instead, are forced every year to fight and fade against the Yankees and Red Sox. To top that, they now get to play against their former Pitcher A.J. Burnett, who is now a Yankee. However, they did steal Kevin Millar from the Orioles.
If Vernon Wells is healthy, he brings a formidable bat in the middle of the lineup. Alex Rios will also look to bounce back after a disappointing 2008. Travis Snider could make some headlines toward the later part of the season. Lyle Overbay is still looking to duplicate his 2006 numbers, his first with the Blue Jays. The team is also hopeful that Scott Rolen can stay off the disabled list.
Despite the loss of Burnett, the team still sports ace Roy Halladay, who will again be the stud No. 1 for the Blue Jays. Beyond that though, and even into the bullpen, the Blue Jays will struggle. However, the bullpen isn’t all that bad, led by closer B.J. Ryan, who did keep all of his 2008 appearances at one inning. Setup man Scott Downs might have to get the call up to the rotation, which isn’t a bad thing, because this team needs some meat in the front of the rotation.
Prediction: 1. Boston 2. New York 3. Tampa Bay 4. Toronto 5. Baltimore