MLB: Boston Red Sox in the American League East's Driver's Seat
Here at 2guys1football.com, we will be previewing all of the divisions in Major League Baseball prior to Opening Day.
Today, we start with the American League East.
The Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees figure to make the American League East one of, if not the best, division in baseball in 2011. The Red Sox and Yankees spent the offseason wheeling and dealing in typical fashion in hopes of positioning themselves for a postseason run.
It's hard to imagine the Wild Card coming from any other American League division this season. Between a revamped Boston team, the scary offense of the New York Yankees and the influx of youth down in Tampa Bay, the race for the top of the division will be as exciting as it has been in recent memory.
Here's a look at the projected standings, as well as what to expect from each team in 2011.
1. Boston Red Sox
At the Plate
An underwhelming offensive team in 2010, the Red Sox added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to their lineup for the 2011 season. In addition to those two key offseason additions, Boston will return a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis and Marco Scutaro to a batting order that was decimated by injuries in 2010.
Boston's lone question mark is behind the plate in young prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He will start behind the plate despite never catching more than 55 games in a single season at the major league level. "Salty" could be ready for his breakout season in 2011.
The sleeper on offense is Jed Lowry, who finished the 2010 campaign on a tear showing surprising pop in his bat. He could be an impact player in this lineup going forward. The sky is the limit for the Red Sox's lineup if they can avoid injuries in 2011.
On the mound
The Red Sox's rotation was a disappointment in 2010.
Josh Beckett had the worst season of his career, while John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka were not reliable at the back end of the rotation. The good news is the top of the rotation is anchored by two of the best young pitchers in the game.
Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are both coming off of All-Star seasons and should have no trouble maintaining that form in 2011. Meanwhile, the additions of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler to a bullpen that already included Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard further solidifies this pitching staff as one of the best in the American League.
On paper, the Red Sox are the best team in the entire American League. Expectations are high in Bean Town, as the Sox faithful are expecting nothing less than a World Series title. The lineup and pitching staff are certainly capable of delivering that, but only if they are able to stay healthy this time around.
2. New York Yankees
At the Plate
The Yankees had the best offense in the league a season ago and figure to pick up right where they left off in 2010. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada all appear to be in the twilight of their careers, but Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira are entering their best seasons, completing one of the most talented infields in all of baseball.
The outfield is nothing to scoff at as Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher complement each other wonderfully with speed and power. This offense faces the unenviable task of carrying a weak pitching staff in baseball's most competitive division.
On the mound
After C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes, New York's rotation is a bit of an enigma.
A.J. Burnett compiled the highest ERA of any starter in team history. He is getting paid the big bucks, but has been nothing more than a back-of-the-rotation starter thus far as a Yankee. The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are filled by unproven youngsters Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre.
The Yankees are so desperate for help in the rotation that they took stabs at veterans Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Mark Prior. Luckily, the bullpen is a strength for the Yankees. The combination of Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera will make stealing games in the eighth and ninth innings very difficult for opposing teams in 2011.
The New York Yankees always find themselves in the playoff race, but are not a lock to make a deep postseason run in 2011. The rotation is average at best, and that could be enough to slow this team down. If Brian Cashman can't work his magic to fix that rotation, New York could be heading home earlier than expected this season.
3. Tampa Bay Rays
At the Plate
The Tampa Bay Rays lost three key contributors to their lineup during the offseason. Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Jason Bartlett will all be playing elsewhere in 2011. Despite the loss of some key players, the Rays may not be in terrible shape. They have a handful of "jars on the shelf" so-to-speak, who are ready to come in and contribute right away.
Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez figure to be solid up the middle of the infield, while the additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon will provide a boost on offense. There will certainly be some growing pains for Tampa, but the bridge could be shorter than many anticipate.
On the Mound
Another massive loss for Tampa Bay this offseason was ace pitcher Matt Garza. However, the Rays still have a talented young rotation featuring David Price, Wade Davis, James Shields and Minor League Player of the Year Jeremy Hellickson. Starting pitching will not be an issue for the Rays in 2011.
Unfortunately, the outlook for the bullpen is not so bright. The Rays lost the top six contributors to their bullpen, including Soriano, who had a dominant 2010 campaign. Things could get ugly for the Rays toward the end of games this season.
The Rays will likely need to retool for the next year or two before contending for another division title. With such a small budget, they are dependent upon their strong minor league system, but this could be a bridge year development-wise.
4. Baltimore Orioles
At the Plate
The Orioles' lineup has a lot of new faces, but it remains to be seen whether the newcomers will bring any new results.
Among the additions to Baltimore's lineup are Mark Reynolds and Derrek Lee. Reynolds is a strikeout machine, and Lee is well past his prime at age 35.
The O's also brought in J.J. Hardy, who will form a dangerous middle infield with Brian Roberts. Vlad Guerrero will also join the club in 2011, and Baltimore hopes he can produce similar numbers to what he managed in Texas last season.
Overall, the lineup is improved, but it does not appear as if the Orioles are building toward anything. Rather, they are plugging in aging veterans to try and contend with New York and Boston. They simply don't have the payroll to pull it off.
On the Mound
Unlike their offensive approach, the Orioles are constructing their rotation with young, developmental players. There is not a set five in place and arguably not even a true ace on the staff. Buck Showalter will have his hands full trying to manage this pitching staff in 2011.
A team like Baltimore just can't compete with the Red Sox and the Yankees given the financial discrepancies between the ball clubs. The Orioles lack star power in their farm system and the money to build through free agency. Showalter will help move this team in the right direction, but it will be another couple of years before they are competing with the big boys.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
At the Plate
The Blue Jays fought their way into contention in 2010 thanks to their power bats.
Unfortunately, the Jays lost quite a bit this offseason. The most notable departure is long-time center fielder Vernon Wells. However, Toronto had a deep, powerful lineup this past season and will need to carry that over to have any success in 2011.
On the Mound
Much like their fellow cellar-dwellers, the Orioles, the Blue Jays have an unproven rotation heading into 2011.
There is reason for optimism, as Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek have all shown flashes of potential in the early stages of their careers. The bullpen is an area of strength for the Jays, who signed Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero to complement fixtures Jason Frasor and David Purcey.
It should be another rough year in Toronto unless they are able to find the power stroke that carried them through the 2010 season. There are a lot of question marks surrounding this team, both in the rotation and in the lineup. In any other division, the Blue Jays would not be a last-place team, but this is life in the American League East.
The Boston Red Sox are the favorite to win the AL East at this point. As long as the Sox can stay healthy, the Yankees' pitching will not be able to hold up in a division race.
Speaking of which, the division race will be a two-horse race as the rest of the division rebuilds. That being said, not much will separate the Rays from the Jays in 2011.
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