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Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees: Northeastern Dominance and Why 2011 Will Blow

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Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees: Northeastern Dominance and Why 2011 Will Blow
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Cliff Lee, perhaps the second best pitcher in baseball, is about to be the second best pitcher on his team.

Cliff Lee just went to the Philadelphia Phillies.

I hope this isn't the first place you're hearing it.

While many baseball fans outside of New York were relieved to see the Yankees would not be able to fix their starting pitching troubles this year, it's still something that has left some of us glum. Why? Because the Northeastern stranglehold on baseball just returned to pre-expansion form.

Yes, I'm aware the 2010 World Series was contested by the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants, but if you're telling me you expected Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe to have that kind of October I'll call you a liar right now.

The entire season and postseason predictions centered around the Yankees, Rays and Phillies. Sure, putting that much faith into a Rays team that wasn't as good in any statistical category as they were in their wins column may have been foolish, but the point regarding the Yankees and Phillies stands.

Getting back on track, the three biggest cities in the traditional home of baseball, the colonial Northeastern cities, are New York, Philadelphia and Boston. The Yankees and Red Sox will continue being the two top spending markets for as long as we don't have a cap (well, the Mets will throw their hat in too, but who really cares?) and the Phillies are finally realizing that hey, Philadelphia is a huge city with plenty of fans that will come out of the woodwork if the team can just win some games.

Who will win the 2011 World Series?

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The Yankees have only won one championship since 2000, which is a huge disappointment for denizens of the Bronx. But even if they've only pulled one off, they've still missed the playoffs a grand total of one time in the wild card era.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, won two championships in the 2000s decade; those coming in the 86 year drought ending in 2004 as well as a repeat in 2007. The Phillies "only" won the series once this decade, in 2008, but millions of baseball fans were shocked when they narrowly avoided becoming the first national league team in over 30 year to win three pennants in a row. 

In 2010, we had the Yankees return most of their 2009 championship team with the notable exceptions of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. The team proved to have aged and saw many decreases in performance, especially in AJ Burnett and to a smaller extent Derek Jeter.

Failed experiments such as Nick Johnson and Javier Vazquez also caused some grief in New York. Thankfully, Robinson Cano was able to pick up much of the slack, allowing an injury-ridden, underperforming and aging team to stay in the homefield advantage race until the last week.

Although, some might argue that the Yankees were on cruise control to end September, as they preferred to not have to face Cliff Lee twice in a five game series, rather opting to destroy the Twins for the 19th time in 20 years (give or take). If this is true, then that was obviously a smart move as the Yankees did manage to be kicked out by the Rangers, albeit Lee only pitched once in that series.

Elsa/Getty Images
Not only will Carl Crawford not be adding hits for the Tampa Bay Rays, he'll be picking up paychecks from the team trying to keep them out of the playoffs.

The Boston Red Sox made a splash when they signed John Lackey and Adrian Beltre. Mike Cameron and Marco Scuturo were brought in to flesh out the lineup as well. While John Lackey managed to be about as fun to watch as a changed Dice-K and social security collecting Tim Wakefield, John Lester and Clay Bucholz both managed to put up near Cy Young caliber seasons.

Beltre managed to have his best year since his NL days in 2004, and Jason Bay didn't seem to be missed too much. The Sox faced numerous injuries and were never quite able to contend for the American League East crown for one main reason: the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Tampa Bay Rays managed to make themselves a thorn in the side of the Yankees and Red Sox ever since they dropped the devil from their name in 2008. Alas, all good things must come to an end.

Doing their best imitation of their in-state brethren, the Florida Marlins, the Rays are now watching their best players leave for greener pastures and larger contracts. It's the sad reality of Florida baseball. The fact that the stadium was at less than 50% capacity when they clinched a playoff spot probably didn't help their payroll issues either. So bye bye Carl Crawford, see you later Carlos Pena, and hasta la vista to the bottom end of their bullpen in Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit.

At least Evan Longoria, signed to the least fair contract in history, is here to stay. I don't think it's a bold prediction to say the Rays will flounder in 2011, or at least not be a major playoff threat. And this is great news for the two divisional rivals spending more than double of the Rays' payroll.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
The Twins can expect to see this again next October.

2010 also saw another great year for the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite some questionable moves by the front office such as shipping away Cliff Lee and signing Ryan Howard until he won't be able to play in the National League anymore (see http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-ryan-howard-deal-examining-a-baby-albatross/ before you get upset, Phillies fans), the Phillies managed to keep the best lineup in the National League as well as create the best playoff rotation not located in San Francisco.

The Phillies underachieved in the beginning of the season before a late surge that not only knocked the Atlanta Braves off their NL East perch, it threw them down a bloody well. That Roy Halladay fella, gained for Cliff Lee, probably didn't hurt the team. Neither did the midseason acquisition of Roy Halladay or Cole Hamels returning to his previous form. The only weakness of the team was, surprise surprise, its bullpen.

But even that seemed to be better than the previous year. Oh, and giving up huge hits to a usually offensively impotent Giants team was probably a mistake too.

So now we've seen the offseason's major moves unfold. The Rays are likely dead, the Rangers lost their best pitcher (sorry C.J. Wilson fans, but please don't be offended by the suggestion that Cliff Lee is the better guy), the Giants aren't likely to repeat (but, for what it's worth, they weren't likely to win in the first place), the Angels died a year ago and haven't made any moves to recover, the Dodgers are destroyed by a divorce, the Rockies are unable to win in months not starting in September, the Twins are unable to win once it gets too chilly, the NL Central is a pointless division and every other team isn't really worth mentioning (once again, sorry if I'm offending your team, but I am a Mariners fan after all).

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Sorry, but it's kind of hard to get over the fact that the 2008 World Series MVP will be pitching fourth in the rotation.

The Red Sox picked up Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. I'd say this gives them the best lineup in baseball, V-Mart's departure not withstanding. Lester and Buchholz are two of the best pitchers in baseball, and Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Papelbon and Dice-K all have the potential to be much better than they were last year. MUCH better.

The Yankees are, well, the Yankees. The 2009 season saw the Yanks have the best player at all four infield positions in the American League. Year in and year out it's like an all-star team that baseball fans can unite in hating.

The Bronx Bombers will have to improve their starting pitching, and now that Cliff Lee is off the market don't be surprised if you see a move for Greinke or even a dark horse to shore up that rotation. The team is aging and will need to make some more moves to remain competitive, but we all know it's coming. Anything less than a pennant would only be another disappointing season in New York. 

The Phillies haven't made too many moves thus far, but they've grabbed the most envied package on the market in Cliff Lee. I thought Hernandez-Lee was the best 1-2 punch of the decade in Seattle. Now the only better pitcher than King Felix (Roy Halladay) is the Ace of Lee's rotation. Not to mention behind Lee are Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Yeah, Cole Hamels is the No. 4 pitcher on the Phillies rotation.

How many teams would Hamels be the undisputed ace of? And he's pitching FOURTH? The Phillies lineup is still easily the best in the National League. Jayson Werth has left for uh, "green"er pastures in Washington, but Rollins, Utley, Polanco, Howard, Ruiz and Victorino all remain. If Raul Ibanez and Carlos Ruiz are the worst guys in your lineup, you're not doing too bad.

So, as of now, we have a three horse race. The three big markets in the northeast. Those guys who write about sports as if they're the only cities in their leagues. Well that's fun and all, it's almost kind of retro.

But as a fan of one of the other 27 teams, I'm not that excited for this upcoming season. There are two major caveats though. First, preseason predictions prove time and time again to be worthless. Halladay and Lee may have back to pack injuries, or Cole Hamels could do his best Brad Lidge impersonation. Jeter could continue declining and Crawford might decide he has enough money.

Secondly, and more importantly, anything can happen in the playoffs. A Brian Sabean GM'd team can even win the World Series.

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