AL East MLB Race 2011: Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays
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The AL East exemplifies divisional competition in Major League Baseball. Add the Tampa Bay Rays to an already explosive mix of one-part Red Sox and one-part Yankees and you have a three-way powder keg of competition set to explode. With new manager Buck Showalter having had some time to fully prepare his team for battle, the Baltimore Orioles will certainly play a part in who is deemed AL East Champion. And don’t forget the Toronto Blue Jays whose young talent core would like a say in the matter.
The Division has certainly gotten a lot tighter over the years and it should be even closer this year. Each team has improved their roster from last year. The inter-divisional play will be more competitive than in any other division, hands down. Since the Wild Card was introduced 16 Years ago, it has come from this division 12 times. These teams may even beat up on each other enough to lower the bar for the Wild Card to actually find its' way into another division.
Biggest Rivalry in Sports: Yankees vs. Red Sox
Jed Lowrie and Jorge Posada
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The Yankees and The Red Sox hold a rare title in the sports world: Most Hated Rivalry. The 2011 season will see this rivalry renewed with its usual intensity. A slight change from recent years will have the Red Sox predicted as the early favorites due to a combination of who moved and, oddly enough, who didn't. Cliff Lee may have shown the world that the Yankees, in fact, cannot buy a championship.
The Yankees and The Red Sox split the season series at 9-9. However, the Red Sox had one of the most injury-laden seasons of all time, having 19 players on 24 disabled lists (some went more than once). Should both teams stay healthy, this series and its rivalry will be, as it always is, quite a spectacle. Look for the speed of the Red Sox to exploit the young arms of Yankees catchers and for Adrian Gonzalez to really make his presence known in both ballparks.
Enter (Again) the Rays
David Price, 2010
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Enter The Tampa Bay Rays, the team that shocked the world in 2008. They are primed to compete with Goliath(s) once again. Two additions, Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, are familiar faces to their new foes. For Manny, this will be his first full year of competition against the team he helped win a pair of World Series titles. His numerous returns to Fenway this season will give Boston faithful plenty of opportunity to boo him. Manny will be back to having fun. It will be the first time in a long time that he is not playing ball in a major market. The lack of attention and distractions may prove to put him back on his game. Also, he may just return to enjoying baseball again.
This team is a serious competitor whom is rarely taken seriously, despite having won the division twice in the last three years. This year they won't be the surprise team. The loss of Carl Crawford will hurt but it opens the door for a number of talented young players that seem to be of endless supply in their farm system.
Welcome Back, Orioles
Showalter in Command
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The Orioles proved last year how much a managerial change can instantly affect a team; having the second best record in the AL since Buck Showalter took the reins. This year, Vladimir Guerrero and Mark Reynolds will add a ton of power to the lineup. Further, you would be hard pressed to find as good a defensive outfield in the Majors, let alone the AL East. What this franchise really needs is ticket sales to help the team compete in the richest division in baseball.
This is a team that has made huge improvements over last year. Off season additions like Derrick Lee help them provide a strong lineup all the way through. Matt Wieiters should have a big year defensively and offensively perhaps proving himself as one of the best catchers in baseball.
The Best 5th Place Team in 2011: Toronto Blue Jays
King of Swing, 2010
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Through a series of trades over the past few years, the Toronto Blue Jays are poised to make their dent in this division. Toronto finished above .500 last year which is no small feat considering the strength of their division. One of their biggest questions seems to be whether last years home run king Jose Bautista will be able to repeat his MVP caliber performance of 2010. Also, there are as many question marks as there is potential in their young pitching staff. I still see them as having another winning year.
5 Teams over .500?
Oct 3, 2010; 4 Teams finish over .500
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The race in the AL East is sure to provide continuing excitement throughout the entire season. Wire to wire this division will be as competitive as has ever been seen, to the point where every win will matter. I believe it is very possible that this division may have all five teams finish with a winning percentage. One thing is for sure: The division race will be as interesting as the games themselves.