MLB Spring Training 2011: Bold Predictions, AL East Style
This is the division that many regard as the most competitive in baseball. I would say it is in a tie for first with the NL Central, but that's just me. The AL east is a powerhouse, just as it is most years. Some of the less relevant teams for the 21st century AL East have made moves during the offseason, and it should make for an interesting division race.
So whose turn is in to come out on top of the division? Did the Red Sox do enough during the offseason to once again take control of the East? Do the Yankees and Rays continue their Dominance? Will another team step in and ruin the party? Let's take a look.
Matt Wieters Finally Fulfills Hype, O's Finish Third in the Division.
The Orioles have been in the basement for a long time, and this year it is finally their turn to take a step forward. Their progress really started during last season with the hiring of Buck Showalter. That proved to the fans and the teams that a new regime was coming into town. He brought focus and confidence to the team, not to mention a winning mentality. Just take a look at the stats: the team was 31-73 before Showalter was named manager, and 35-23 after he took over. I can not think of a better manager to right the ship in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore.
Now that they have proper management, they needed to bolster their lineup in order to make more of a splash than their 2010 campaign. With the signing of Vlad Guerrero, Derek Lee, and Mark Reynolds, the Orioles addressed their main issue of the prior season: lack of power. These signings give huge upgrades at 1B, 3B, and DH. It allows Luke Scott to move into the outfield along with Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, while it takes a lot of the pressure off of the young star Matt Wieters. I see this being his breakout year. He was always burdened by having to single handedly turn around the O's, and now that he has some help I think he can flourish in the system. Combine this with some young stars, led by Brian Matusz, and you have the No. 3 team in the AL East.
Boston Red Sox
Red Sox Win it All.
This team has made leaps and bounds for their 2010 form, and I think will be hoisting the World Series Trophy this fall. Last year was riddled with injury after injury. It is hard to compete when your two best offensive players (Pedroia and Youkilis) are lost for the year, along with a rising star in Jacoby Ellsbury. Couple that with the loss of Clay Buchholz after he hurt himself running the bases, and you have a recipe for disaster. Even with all the injuries, a down season from both John Lackey and Jonathon Papelbon, and constant changes throughout the lineup, the Sox still managed an 89 win season, and were poised fro a big offseason.
When Red Sox fans saw that the team traded for Adrian Gonzalez, they thought the offseason couldn't get any better. But when you see the club also signed Carl Crawford, the street of Beantown were filled with cheers and every person you passed was smiling from ear to ear. This gave the Red Sox a lineup where their projected top 6 batters being Ellsbury, Pedroia, Crawford, Gonzalez, Youkilis, and Ortiz. There is not team that can come close to that speed, power, and sheer run producing ability. If you look at the Red Sox's pitching, it could just as easily carry them if their offense has an off day (days which will be few and far between). Jon Lester could be a No. 1 starter for any team in baseball, Clay Buchholz could easily win 18-20 games, and bounce back seasons from Lackey, Beckett, and Dice-K give them one of the best rotations in baseball. The Sox also did a great job of bolstering their bullpen, adding Bobby Jenks and keeping the firearms of Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon. The club has the total package, and they are my pick to win it all.
New York Yankees
Offense and Bullpen Stellar, Lack of Pitching Depth Kills Down Stretch.
The Yankees still have one of the strongest offenses in the league. With the likes of A-Rod, Tex, and Cano, they can easily hang with the Red Sox on the offensive side of the ball. A comeback season from the captain and Curtis Granderson, and the Yanks will cause some noise come October. Their Bullpen is also one of the best in baseball. With the addition of Rafael Soriano, they now have one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball with him and Mariano. Throw in David Robertson, and they only need their starters to go 6 innings to get a win locked up.
So what is holding me back from calling the Yankees a real contender? The answer is simple: starting pitching. No one can deny that the slimmed up CC and Phil Hughes are one of the best combos in baseball, but I worry about what comes after that. I have never been a fan of A.J. Burnett, and I think this season will be like every other he has had with the Yankees. He will be their No. 3 starter, but he will also be a constant concern and sore spot during the season. To round out the rotation, the Yankees do not have much. Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre will fight for the No. 4 and No. 5 spots, but then there is a big stretch to the other competitors. When I start to hear names like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, it tells me the team is both 1. Worried and 2. Desperate. For the Yankees to become a contender, I look for them to try and trade for a pitcher like Carlos Zambrano of Chicago. However, in absence of a trade for a quality starter, I see the Yanks falling short of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Rays
Starting Pitching Stellar, Lack of Offense and Bullpen Kill From Opening Day.
The Rays are the blueprint for succeeding in a small market. They draft better than anyone else, and produce high end prospect after high end prospect. Their starting staff is a testament to their work. The Rays have two No. 1 starters in Jeremy Hellickson and David Price. Combine this with the underrated Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, and the Rays can compete with any team in the AL East.
Their Problems come when you look at the other 2 areas of their team: Offense and the Bullpen. Their was a fire sale this year, and the Rays got rid of a lot of their talent. On the offensive side, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena were both huge losses. Although they still have players like B.J Upton and Evan Longoria and signed ageless wonders Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, the Rays just lost too much on the offensive side to compete.
If you think what the Rays lost offensively was bad, take a look at their bullpen. They lost their closer Rafael Soriano and one of their mainstays in Grant Balfour. This left the team with no real closer, no true set up man, and a lot of questions going into 2011.
Toronto Blue Jays
Why did we Ever Sign Bautista and Let Marcum Go?
The Blue Jays will finish last in the AL East this season, and they will have a very long season. The Blue Jays lost a lot in the offseason, with their best pitcher Shaun Marcum and closer Kevin Gregg finding new homes. They did sign Frank Francisco to take over as closer and Rajai Davis for some speed at the top of the lineup, but they also had to unload the huge contract of Vernon Wells. Toronto should have done eeverything they could to keep Marcum, he is one of the best young pitchers in the game and someone that could have a squad build around him.
The Blue Jays will also regret signing Jose Bautista. This guy had one good year in his career, and I just don't see how there cannot be a considerable drop off. At age 30, it is hard to believe he will keep up with what he did in 2010, and I think the club could have better used the money elsewhere.
Not all is bad in Toronto, However. The team has some rising stars in J.P Arencibia and Kyle Drabek. They will both be with the major league squad this year, and although there will be some growing pains in 2011, look for them to be future stars in the years to come