Before the start of the 2010 season, most people firmly believed that the American League East was the best division in all of baseball.
The defending World Series Champion New York Yankees added outfielder Curtis Granderson from the Detroit Tigers to their already outstanding lineup, while the Boston Red Sox acquired Angels pitcher John Lackey to what might have been the best pitching staff in the Division.
However, the Red Sox and Yankees, the darlings of the East, were not the talk of town. Rather, the Tampa Bay Rays were.
In no other words possible, the Rays were stacked. Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, David Price, Matt Garza and James Shields with Rafael Soriano to help close out games.
What most people further and sadly agreed on, was that no matter what happened, this was going to be the beginning of the end for the Rays. Contracts were up for Crawford and Pena, and one way or another, Tampa was going to be in rebuilding mode to start the 2011 season.
And oh yeah, then there are the Baltimore Orioles, who on July 30 brought in Buck Showalter to finish out another disappointing season, but instead, the Orioles rallied for their first winning month of the season and closed out the 2010 season with a 34-23 mark.
With Opening Day just around the corner, here is a preview of the AL East.
Boston Red Sox
Strengths: Everything. Boston has the goods and is expected to not only win the East, but to win the World Series. Their lineup from top to bottom is about as solid as you can get. With the additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, Boston's only weakness in the lineup is their catcher.
Boston's pitching, which last year had two Cy Young nominees in Clay Buccholz and Jon Lester, if healthy, will have the best starting staff in the division. Lester, Buccholz, Beckett, Lackey and Dice-K could all win 15 games a piece if healthy.
In the bullpen, the Sox added Bobby Jenks as their new set up man to Jonathan Papelbon.
Weakness: Injuries. Last season Boston lost almost all of their starting lineup along with Beckett, Dice-K and Tim Wakefield to injuries. Injuries giveth, and as last season Boston found out, injuries taketh away.
Outlook: Anything but a division title and World Series trophy is a failure for Boston.
New York Yankees
Strengths: Offense. After Boston, the Yankees may have the best lineup in the division.
Weakness: Pitching. Outside of CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte (retired), the Yankees were terribly inconsistent. Phil Hughes won 18 games, but his ERA was at 4.19, while the $80 million dollar man, AJ Burnett lost 15 games and ran with an ERA of 5.26.
Outlook: Wild card.
Tampa Bay Rays
Strengths: Farm system. Tampa's farm system has brought up Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, BJ Upton and David Price and soon outfielder Desmond Jennings and pitcher Jeremy Hellickson may be added to the list of great young Rays talent.
Their pitching staff is also loaded with drafted Rays players like Wade Davis, Jeff Neimann and James Shields to go along with Hellickson and Price. Tampa will go early on to closer by committee as they did not re-sign Rafael Soriano.
Weaknesses: Rebuilding mode, which in the long run, once again, may prove to be their strength. How does a team who loses a combined 170 RBI, 50 stolen bases and 170 runs scored rebound? We're about to find out.
Outlook: Tampa is a team in transition. Having lost Crawford, Pena and Soriano and traded Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs, the Rays will be at least a year away from being contenders in the division once again.
Strengths: Wild Card. Baltimore is the kind of team that can sneak up on anybody simply because they can. Baltimore added Derek Lee, JJ Hardy, Vladimir Guerrero and Mark Reynolds to their youthful lineup lead by Nick Markakis.
Weaknesses: Pitching. Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta lead a youthful pitching staff with only one starter, Jeremy Guthrie being over the age of 30. Out of 30 teams, Baltimore ranked 27th overall in ERA at 4.59.
As pitching goes, so goes the team.
Outlook: Baltimore does not have the money that the Yankees and Red Sox have to compete for top free agents, and their farm system, although it has produced solid players, hasn't produced great players.
Baltimore is the kind of team in this day and age, that can sneak up on somebody the way San Diego did last season.
Toronto Blue Jays
Strengths: The Long ball. Toronto last season lead the league in home runs and Jose Bautista, who never hit more than 16 home runs in a season, lead the league with 54.
Pitching wise, Toronto's best pitcher may be Brandon Morrow who last season had 12 and 17 strikeout games as well as coming within one out of a no-hitter.
Weakness: Inconsistency. Despite the Blue Jays leading the league in home runs with 257, they also finished with the 6th worst batting average in the league at just .248. Their ERA was also 8th worst in the league despite being ranked No. 11 in strikeouts.
Outlook: Toronto, who had a winning record and finished 4th in the division last season will need to find consistency at the plate and mound before making any upward movement in the league.
The 2011 season officially kicks off Thursday March 31, 2011.
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