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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A.L. East Preview

Well it's time.....finale divisional preview.....and it's the American League East. I am a Yankee fan. It is going to be very hard for me to be objective about this. My predicted stats will be as objective as I can make them but my individual team previews may be a bit biased. Also I know a lot more about the Yankees than any other team so my predictions about them should be more accurate than other teams (also I have a lot more to say about them, so bear with me). Last year, the A.L. East appeared like this......

Rays: 96-66
Yankees: 95-67
Red Sox: 89-73
Blue Jays: 85-77
Orioles: 66-96

So the flat fish....the Tampa Bay (no longer devil, perhaps soon to be heavenly?) Rays. I think flat might be the way the Rays come out this year. The key word there is might. They won't have a high team batting average BUT they will score runs. Some of the young talent that was on display last year will have a chance to fill out that line up, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, and Reid Brignac among them. The biggest hits to the Rays offense will be the loss of Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Jason Bartlet. These players brought a couple of different approaches to the plate and a different strength. Pena hit the bombs, Bartlett got on base and got into scoring position and Crawford did what Bartlet did only better. Although the team has lost a few key bats they have also added former Red Sox teammates Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. Pausing briefly for a personal statement, I can't wait for these two guys to come back to the Bronx! Okay, so, will Damon and Ramirez replace Crawford, Bartlet and Pena? Well I think they will. Manny is one of, if not the best right handed hitters I have ever seen. This is the first time he has come into spring training expecting to be a full time DH. I think he will flourish in the role and have a great season. Damon is not Crawford but he will get his hits and maybe even steal a few bases. He is no where near the defensive outfielder that Crawford is but aside from a very poor arm, Damon is a serviceable replacement. I have heard many times that the Rays have the best rotation in the American league. I just don't buy that. I think David Price has proven he is a front end starter and will continue to do so, however I think James Shields is very questionable. Wade Davis and Jeff Nieman I haven't formed an opinion on yet. Without Garza and with the young Hellickson being unproven this is not the best rotation in the A.L. I will concede that with the inconsistency that has plagued all the starting pitching the this division the Rays might have the best starting pitching in the division. I would talk about the bull pen but it's gone. They all left. If anyone has an idea of the plan for the Rays pen please let me know.

The New York Yankees......I will not hide that this is my team. I am a Yankee fan. I am scared. First, lets look at the bad stuff. Last year A.J. Burnett, who was great in 2009, was terrible. In the month of June he was 0-5 with an ERA over 11.00!!!! He had by far the worst year of his career with highs in losses and ERA. As I am writing this I am watching the Houston Astros blow a 4 run lead to the Yankees in the bottom of the 9th on errors which is how they got the lead in the first place. Gotta love the spring. Anyway, Burnett started this game and I will say the mechanical tweaks are noticeable and seemed to make a big difference. Burnett had excellent control of the fastball and one of the two curves he threw looked good. I know, it's very very early. This is by no means conclusive. However I am hopeful for an A.J. Burnett rebound year which would be enormous for the Yankees. C.C. Sabathia had a great season in 2010 winning 20 games for the first time in his career and barring injury should be able to repeat something similar. Phil Hughes had 18 wins but an ERA over 4.00. He got great run support but he needs to keep the ERA down a bit to be a real 2 or 3 role starter. The back end of the rotation is going to be interesting. Ivan Nova will likely be the 4th starter and he showed he could get major league hitters out last year but would get lit starting around the 5th inning. He needs to develop stamina and take a good start into the 6th at least if not the 7th. Nova has a great opportunity to be a hero in New York this year. With the greatness that will be the Boston line up the Yankees will have a very hard time making the post season without a solid 4th starter. If Nova can come through he will be well on his way to being a beloved Yankee. For the 5th spot I think Brian Cashman may have put up an ad in the local retirement home. I know that's a little harsh, but Freddy Garcia and especially Bartolo Colon are very, well, "experienced". The other man in the mix is Sergio Mitre who will probably end up as the long man in the pen. One way or another I don't expect much from the 5 starter. The pen however I think is one that the Yankees can be proud of. Mo is still Mo and will convert at least 9 out of 10 save chances. Cashman also brought over the best closer in the American League last year to set up for Mo. In the 7th inning the Yankees will look to a mix of left handers Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan along with righties Dave Robertson and Joba Chamberlain to get the game to Soriano and Mo when the starters can't get 7 innings. I think the line up will go through some changes throughout this season. The starting line up on opening day, if written down tonight, would probably look like this: Jeter, Swisher, Tex, Arod, Cano, Posada, Granderson, Martin, Gardener. By the All-Star break I wouldn't be surprised to see something more like this: Gardener, Swisher, Cano, Arod, Tex, Montero, Posada, Granderson, Jeter. I realize that if Jeter is able to rebound from last year, which was on the heels of the best year of his career and may have just been a fluke, he may retain the lead off spot. Similarly if Brett Gardener doesn't have the season he is capable of Jeter may be the best choice either way. I think Curtis Granderson made huge progress working with new hitting coach Kevin Long last year and I expect a big year out of him, however I would still keep him down in the order for some late pop and a base runner for the top. Robinson Cano is the best hitter on the team and I like him in the three hole from opening day but that change will not be made swiftly. Tex has been there for a few years and will keep the job if he doesn't struggle too much early on. Arod looks lean and quick this spring and may be able to pull off another few "Arod"ish years before age gets him. Jesus Montero is probably the biggest question among Yankee fans right now when it comes to know will be the Yankee catcher in 2011. Montero's bat is great and while his defense has been criticized he has been working hard on it and made great improvement. The Yankees are very deep at the catcher position with Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez also in the minors behind Montero. I won't be surprised to see one of them traded for a pitcher, especially if the rotation is struggling mid season. The other question is will the "Killer Bs" log any major league innings this year. Banuelos, Betances, and Brackman are the 3 biggest Yankee pitching prospects and while Brackman hasn't thrown yet this spring due to a minor groin twinge Banuelos and Betences have both looked excellent for this early and I think we can expect to see all three at least in September in 2011. Sorry for so much detail but I know the most about these guys. Moving on....

The Boston Red Sox may be the most improved team offensively in all of baseball heading into the 2011 season. Not only will they regain offensive threats Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury, who were injured for much of the 2010 season, they have added two great hitters in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Adding the speed of Crawford to Ellsbury's at the top of the line up and the pop in A-gonz's bat this line up could be historic. I am not convince that Ellsbury will stay healthy because he has been injured several times in a short career but even with Ellsbury hurt it almost makes line up decisions easier when it comes to the top 3 spots. The only chink I can find in the Boston line up is that with Crawford, Ellsbury, A-Gonz, Drew, and Ortiz it is a bit left handed and may be able to be held down by a good lefty. However the great majority of the pitchers in baseball are right handed including 4 of the 5 Yankee starters. With the added bonus of hitting in Fenway this team may score an obscene amount of runs and I think new comer Adrian Gonzalez will add close to 10 home runs to his total last year. He is great at hitting fly balls the other way and moving from Petco to Fenway could send many of those from outs to HRs increasing his batting average as well. If you go to a Yankee Red Sox game this year prepare to be there for awhile and see a lot of hits. Unless Sabathia is pitching against Lester the Yankee Red Sox games have great slug fest potential. The Red Sox rotation, like the Yankee's, outside of John Lester, is full of questions. Will John Lackey stay healthy? Will Josh Beckett remember how to pitch they way he used to? Will Matsuzaka ever be worth the millions the Sox spent on him? Is Clay Bucholtz for real? Will the offense score so many runs that they could win Christopher Reeve on the mound? We shall see. Real quick, I'm not sure the Red Sox will have many games where the score is closer than 4 runs but if they need saves who will it be? They added Bobby Jenks to last year's closer Johnathon Papplebon and set up man Daniel Bard and I think whichever pitcher proves they can handle the job will get it.

I have never had a problem with the Toronto Blue Jays but I think there is something funny going on in the locker room. It seems that in the off season between 2009 and 2010 Adam Lind and Aaron Hill left their "mojo" lying around and Jose Bautista stole it. In 2009 Hill and Lind both seemed to have break out seasons and then in 2010 they both had break down seasons. Meanwhile in 2010 Jose Bautista hit 54 HRs while batting .260 and made a name for himself. I'm not sure what to expect from the Jay's line up this year, I guess we'll just have to wait and see. The rotation should be solid with Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek, Brett Cecil, and Jesse Litsch. With the loss of closer Kevin Gregg we'll have to wait and see who gets that job. This team is a bit of a mystery this year and I am excited to see how they compete is this tough division.

If the Boston Red Sox are the most improved line up, the Baltimore Orioles are a close second. Last year the Orioles had a great turn around during the last month of the season and now with a full season under Buck Showalter I am hoping they will compete. An entire division over .500? I haven't done the math to see how bad that would require the other division to be but it would be very impressive to see. With new sticks, Vladamir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, and Derrick Lee to go along with Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Adam Jones, and the potential upside of Matt Weiters, this team could score serious runs. I would not be surprised to see two teams in this division score 1,000 runs and a third get close. Following the trend of this division the pitching is an unknown. Over the last few years pitching has been the real issue for Baltimore and I'm not sure they have solved it even though they have added closer Kevin Gregg and starter Justin Duchscherer may add some stability. The returning starters, Jeremy Guthrie, and youngster Brian Matusz, with some added run support, may be able win more games than they have the last couple years.

These predicted standings will be based on no assumed injuries and no speculation about rebounding players or unproven youngsters. Here we go....

Red Sox: 92-70
Yankees: 90-72
Rays: 89-73
Blue Jays: 85-77
Orioles: 79-83

This hurts me and I hope its wrong but that's how I see it right now.

Now that we've come to the end of the divisional previews lets take a brief look and how baseball will go down in October. The Red Sox will play the Wild Card Tigers and the White Sox will play the Athletics. The White Sox and Tigers will win and play each other in the ALCS with the Tigers achieving revenge over losing the division and defeating the Phillies in the World Series and becoming the champions of baseball in 2011!

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