MLB Divisional Breakdowns: AL East

Lou CappettaAnalyst IIMarch 16, 2009

It's the middle of March, and spring training games are getting more competitive, pitchers are pitching more innings, and players are starting to get back in the swing of playing Major League Baseball everyday.

The transition from spring training to the regular season is beginning to take place.

With that in mind, there have been numerous predictions, division breakdowns, rankings, and lists about who will win, lose, win awards, an so on.

Anyone can pick division winners and losers, but it's time to dig into each division beyond just the order in which teams will finish.

The American League East division may be one of the toughest in baseball. Ruled by the Red Sox and Yankees for most of the past decade, the Tampa Bay Rays emerged as a power player and actually won the division last season.

The Toronto Blue Jays also won 86 games, and even the Orioles played well in the first half before finding out that they have no pitching.

So here is the American League East division breakdown for the 2009 baseball season.

The All AL-East Team

1B Mark Teixeira, NY

2B Dustin Pedroia, Bos

3B Evan Longoria, TB (Alex Rodriguez not included due to injury)

SS Derek Jeter, NY

LF Carl Crawford, TB

CF Jacoby Ellsbury, Bos

RF Nick Markakis, Bal

C Dioner Navarro, TB

DH David Ortiz, Bos

RHP Roy Halladay, Tor

LHP CC Sabathia, NY

CL Mariano Rivera

Best Starting Rotation: Boston Red Sox

Despite what the New York Yankees added to their starting rotation during this offseason, the Sox still will boost the best group of starting pitching in the division. They are stacked with young, talented starters. Their top three, Josh Beckett, John Lester, and Daisuke Matsuzaka could all be No. 1 starters on most teams.

The No. 4 slot will be manned by Tim Wakefield, who is proving to be this generation's version of Charlie Hough.

The fifth-starter slot will be Brad Penny's to lose. The former Dodger ace is coming off an injury-plagued 2008 that saw him pitch fewer than 100 innings.

Boston still has prospects Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden, and Justin Masterson, who could all see time in the rotation, not to mention John Smoltz, who will be given as much time he needs to recover from injury so he can help the Sox down the stretch.

(Honorable Mention: Tampa Bay Rays).

Best Lineup: New York Yankees

When a team can lose the greatest offensive force of this generation in Alex Rodriguez, replace him with Cody Ransom and still be picked by many to still win the division, the lineup must be stacked.

Guys like Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady, and Robinson Cano could be the heart of a lineup for many teams in the majors, and they'll probably bat sixth, seventh, and eighth.

They also may have the best No. 2 hitter in the game in Derek Jeter. There is not an easy out in this entire lineup, even without A-Rod.

(Honorable Mention: Boston Red Sox)

Best Bullpen: Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays quietly had a great bullpen last season. While the starting rotation will be almost totally revamped for 2009, the bullpen will remain in tact.

Closer B.J. Ryan is a big-name closer, even in a division that includes Mariano Rivera and Jonathon Papelbon.

Jeremy Accardo, who saved 30 games while Ryan was injured in '07 and could close for most teams, will return as a set-up man along with Scott Downs, who had separate scoreless-inning streaks of 26, 17.2, and 11.2 in '08.

Jesse Carlson returns after a rookie season that saw him appear in 69 games, pick up seven wins, and hold opponents to a .140 average.

(Honorable Mention: New York Yankees)Best Defensive Team: Tampa Bay Rays

Part of the Rays success last season was the fact that played almost like a national league team. They played small ball well, got timely hits, used their speed, relied on solid pitching, and of course defense.

With the exception of unproven Matt Joyce in right field, there is not a poor defensive player anywhere in the Rays starting line-up.

In the infield, Bartlett's a stud at shortstop defensively, Iwamura made a seamless transition from third to second, Longoria had only 12 errors as a rookie at third, and Carlos Pena won the 2008 Gold Glove award at first base.

With Upton and Crawford in center and left, respectively, manager Joe Maddon could put a statue in right field and still have no worries.

Dioner Navarro proved to be a very good defensive catcher, handled the young staff brilliantly, and even made the All Star team in '08.

(Honorable Mention: Boston Red Sox).

Best Hitter: Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees

The new first baseman in the Bronx will enter his seventh season in '09. The past five seasons, Teixeira has hit at least 30 home runs and driven in 100 runs, as well as scoring 100 runs and batting .300 three times each.

The switch hitting Teixeira is as complete a hitter as they come, hitting for average and power, as well as scoring runs and drawing walks.

If he can hit in the clutch better than his new teammate across the diamond, he'll easily cement his place in Yankee lore.

(Honorable Mention: Nick Markakis, Orioles).

Best All-Around Player: Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays

No player in the division combines hitting, speed, and defense like Carl Crawford. Despite being plagued by injuries and having his worst season in the bigs in '08, Crawford still hit .273, with 10 triples, 25 steals, and 69 runs scored in only 109 games.

When healthy, Crawford has been a lock to hit .300, score 100 runs, steal 50 bases, hit 15 homers, drive in 80 runs, and post double digit totals in triples. Throw in his stellar defense in left field, and you have a complete baseball player.

(Honorable Mention: Nick Markakis, Toronto Blue Jays).

Best Starting Pitcher: Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays

While CC Sabathia was getting a ton of press for the season he was having with Milwaukee, Halladay was having a comparable season.

He won three more games and had a lower ERA than Sabathia. He also pitched just six fewer innings and had 9 complete games to CC's 10.

He's still only 31 and has already won 20 games twice, won a Cy Young award ('03) and has a career record of 131-66 for the fourth-highest active career-winning-percentage (.665).

He also has the fifth most career complete games among active players with 40 (the youngest player ahead of him, Livan Hernandez, is four years his senior).

Halladay has had a few injury problems, which he seems to have put behind him, pitching at least 220 innings in each of the last three seasons.

Halladay may be one of the few bright spots for the Jays in 2009, and he is the definition of a work-horse ace.

(Honorable Mention: CC Sabathia, New York Yankees).Best Closer: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees

Sure he will be coming off an injury this offseason, and true he'll turn 40 in November, but Rivera is the greatest closer of all time, and until he proves otherwise, will continue to be the greatest closer in all of baseball.

Just look at his '08 season: 70.2 IP in 64 appearances, 39 saves, 77 strikeouts, an ERA of 1.40. His WHIP was an amazing 0.665, because he allowed only 41 hits and six walks (yes, that six is not a misprint).

Mariano was also an all-star for the ninth time, and finished fifth in the AL Cy Young award voting.

(Honorable Mention: Jonathon Papelbon, Boston Red Sox).

Best Rookie: Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles

When the Orioles traded catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Reds during the winter meetings, it was clear that the organization believed the future is now for Matt Wieters.

The fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft, Wieters was also Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year last season when he hit .355, with 27 home runs, and 91 RBI at two levels.

Even if Wieters starts the season in AAA, he could make a quick appearance in the majors like Evan Longoria last season.

(Honorable Mention: David Price, Tampa Bay Rays)

Most Underrated Player: Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles

Markakis, a three-year veteran, might be the best hitter nobody really knows.

In 2008, Markakis hit .300 for the second straight year. He's a pure hitter with pop who can produce runs, field and even steal a base or two (10 SB in 2008, 18 SB in 2007).

In 2008, Markakis was third in the AL in runs produced with 123, on a last-place team. If Markakis played on a half-way decent team, he'd already be a star.

(Honorable Mention: James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays)

Most Overrated Player: A.J. Burnett, New York Yankees

A.J. Burnett is a good starting pitcher. He's not an ace by any means, and is an average No. 2 on a good team.

He's also not worth a five year contract and $82.5 million.

Sure, he won 18 games last season, but he also posted a rather high ERA of 4.07. Plus prior to last season, Burnett had never won more than 12 games in a season, and only pitched 200 innings while starting 30 games twice.

Last season was also the first that Burnett didn't face significant time on the disabled list.

He has great stuff, but his health history could turn his signing into Carl Pavano part two.

(Honorable Mention: Alex Rios, Toronto Blue Jays)

And the Winner Is: Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays came out of nowhere last season and won a division that hadn't been won by a team from New York or Boston in a decade. They won't sneak up on anyone this season, but they look to have a great recipe for success.

The Rays added veteran bat Pat Burrell to a lineup full of young talented hitters, and they'll also have David Price for a full season in a rotation that includes some of the best young pitchers in baseball.

The closer is a question mark to begin the season, but Troy Percival shouldn't be out for too long. This team has great leadership, great talent, and they are so young, that they could still be getting better.

(Honorable Mention: New York Yankees).


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