MLB: Projected 2011 American League East Standings
With the American League East more competitive and stronger than ever, there have been many arguments regarding this division.
Perhaps the Tampa Bay Rays will rebound, or the Yankees will pull an upset over the Red Sox.
Boston might just even exceed everyone's already big expectations with their strong starting rotation when healthy and the addition of two big names.
And don't forget about the Blue Jays who had a solid season last year, or even the Orioles with their new strong offensive lineup.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
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One of their best players in Vernon Wells was traded to the LA Angels this offseason for only Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli.
Napoli was then immediately traded to the Texas Rangers the next day for an okay reliever in Frank Francisco. The outfield for the Blue Jays was already set, so Rivera coming in is at best alright.
Toronto does have many things to be hopeful about, with youngsters like Kyle Drabek and Travis Snider.
Other positives include the additions of bullpen help with Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch. Rajai Davis will make a good audition for the outfield with his speed and on the bases too. New teammate Scott Podsednik possess similar skills to Davis.
Jose Bautista signed a five-year extension, and it doesn't seem to be steroids that are helping him either. Nor did it seem to be fluke year in 2010. MLB Network had analyzed his swing, and it does make sense on how Bautista is able to hit so many bombs.
Even though this team isn't good enough to get out of the cellar at least, I believe they will finish above the .500 mark.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
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It will take at least another year for the Rays to be a division contender once again.
They lost a major power hitter in Carlos Pena and their ace with Matt Garza. Losses also include top relievers such as Rafael Soriano and Grant Balfour. Look on the bright side, they have Chris Archer, who has the potential to be an ace. Jeremy Hellickson is also on the rise.
However, they filled one of their weakest spots, the DH position (I'm not even sure if it's even classified as a position by some but you get the point) with Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. If Ramirez can find at least some of his old form, the Rays will get an AL East killer.
These two also bring veteran presence.
The feisty Rays can still compete well if their X-Factors step up. James Shields had an ERA of five last year, which is below average of what he is capable of. B.J. Upton's average has dropped over the last three years. Don't forget about the consistent pitcher, Jeff Niemann, who had a downish year and looks for a better season in 2011.
And of course, there are the futures of the organization that can always be depended on with David Price leading the pitching staff and Evan Longoria leading the offense.
3. Baltimore Orioles
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Let me just say this O's fans: I, as a Yankees fan, did think of Baltimore pushing them out of second, but I think the Yankees can still pull it off. Also, I think it's going to be something of a two to five game difference between the two teams.
Back to talking about only one team, the Orioles are by far one of the most improved teams in Major League Baseball.
And even with the worst team in baseball back in earlier part of 2010, manager Buck Showalter turned them around with a winning record during his short tenure.
With the additions of offensive power DH Vladimir Guerrero, who can provide 25 home runs and 100 RBIs, and also 35 home run hitting Mark Reynolds, this will be a scary lineup to face. Derrek Lee isn't an easy out either, and he provides an excellent glove at first base.
Outfielder Nick Markakis will provide the doubles and Adam Jones is consistent with his average (note it has increased for the past five seasons for him).
Jeremy Guthrie is the staff ace, owning an ERA below four in 2008 and 2010, which is decent. But the rest of the rotation is questionable. The bullpen was upgraded by the acquisition of Kevin Gregg, which certainly helps in this situation.
If everyone stays healthy, and players like J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters perform like the way they actually should, this should be a Top 10 offensive club. Also, if Justin Duchscherer stays healthy the entire year, that's a solid one-two in the rotation.
Long time Orioles Brian Roberts also will start the season healthy, which is an excellent sign after missing 103 games.
If everything goes right, they should at least compete for the American League Wild Card, and perhaps overcome the Yankees (but not yet).
2. New York Yankees
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Ahhh..... the Yankees. The offseason starts with the media all over Derek Jeter—how he is "demanding" money, but still signs a three-year, $51 million deal with a player option. It is the New York media after all.
The Rafael Soriano is said to have weakened the GM-Owner relationship, even though it doesn't seem so.
They missed out on Cliff Lee.
Andy Pettitte retired.
The Zack Greinke trade never happened even though he said yes. Tough offseason for a team like the Yanks, huh?
Well, they still have solid pieces that can get them to the playoffs again. Jorge Posada will be the full time DH, so he might be able to produce much better offensively without taking a couple of foul ball tips every single game.
Derek Jeter still had scored 111 runs. Robinson Cano is now a MVP candidate with his gold glove and hot bat. Alex Rodriguez will be fully healthy, so he can easily hit 35 home runs and drive in 100 RBIs. Mark Teixeira provides a great No. 3 bat with an outstanding defense, saving error after error.
Curtis Granderson looks for a comeback year with his new adjustments to his swing, which seemed to work at the end of the season. Nick Swisher now hits for a higher average. Brett Gardner gets on-base and steals bases.
Jesus Montero is a top-notch prospect that is predicted to hit 30 home runs soon in the near future.
But now, they only have C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes to depend on. We don't know what we'll get out of inconsistent A.J. Burnett. Freddy Garcia is okay, but it's not the best option. Ivan Nova seems to be a good No. 5 guy in the Yankees rotation from what we saw from him last September.
Thankfully for Yankees fans, the bullpen is stronger. Mo as the closer (surprised?), Rafael Soriano as the setup guy and Pedro Feliciano as the workhorse and left handed batter specialist. Boone Logan isn't the only left hander anymore.
A good bench (with plenty of options) is also there with Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez, Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena and Russell Martin.
The most important question is—are they going to win the World Series this year? They need to get great production from the now "Core 3" and A.J. Burnett like they did in 2009 to even have a shot.
Just hope for the best.
1. Boston Red Sox
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Additions of two MVP candidates, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Returning stars with Kevin Youkilis and a healthy Dustin Pedroia, a solid infielder in Marco Scutaro and plenty of options in the outfield with Daniel Nava, Darnell McDonald, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew. Good power at the DH position with David Ortiz.
They provide a strong rotation including a healthy Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. A bullpen that has Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler and Jonathon Papelbon.
Is there more to say about Terry Francona's club?
I didn't think so.