Monday, March 30, 2009

Preview/Prediction: A.L. East

The Rays took everyone, including me, for a ride last year. Though I correctly predicted them being out of the cellar, I had them in fourth place, not first.

I nailed Boston's record on the head, and was only a game off of the Yankees' final tally, though I had each team's positioning wrong. Big surprise, the Orioles finished in last. Chalk that one up in the win column for me, but we're not exactly throwing me a parade.

1) Boston Red Sox (96-66)
This being the most difficult division to rank the top three teams, I'm taking what I see as the least favorite and least talented of the three teams to finish in first. The Red Sox are a year older where it hurts (Ortiz, Lowell, Varitek), but have a great wave of youth helping out (Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lowrie), as well as a core of veterans who are still in their prime (Bay, Youkilis, Drew).

Jason Bay is going to have a huge year in his first full campaign in Beantown. I expect him to be an All-Star as well as put up better than his average numbers (.282/31/103).

The Red Sox made a few small moves, acquiring Brad Penny and John Smoltz, so the experience and depth in their rotation and bullpen can very well get them to the promised land.

2) New York Yankees (92-70)
I know, I hate myself too. I can always relish in the fact that I correctly predicted the Yanks to miss the playoffs last year, but don't I do that every year?? By this estimation, they'll win the Wild Card.

The high-profile pickups of C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett are so beaten to death, I'm kicking myself for even mentioning it here.

The Yankees are young and talented, but does Joe Girardi know how to effectively use the talent he has while keeping everyone in the clubhouse happy?

Buckle up, ladies and gents, this is going to be a wild ride in the Bronx this season. Haters should get a good laugh or two.

C.C. won't earn his paycheck, but he'll be solid, maybe winning 16 games with an earned run average of about 3.40. If Yankee fans say that's worth the money he's getting, that's their delusion, and I'll have no part of it. The only reason I say Johan Santana earned his money last year is because he would have had 22 wins if not for the bullpen, and a 2.50 ERA was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

With Jeter in the leadoff hole, it will be much easier for the Yankees to create runs, because he at least gets on base consistently, as opposed to any other option outside of a healthy Johnny Damon.

I won't be surprised if the Yanks win the division, but I'm banking on clubhouse chemistry winning it for the BoSox and losing it for the Yanks.

3) Tampa Bay Rays (90-72)
The odd man out. Sorry, guys. It was a great run last year, the franchise is truly on the map, and here to stay, but this season won't be their year. The young pitching will still be spectacular, but A) they won't be blindsiding anyone this year, B) there's no chance they get away with a full season of injury-less starting pitching, and C) the front office isn't ready to play ugly like the Red Sox and Yankees are willing to do.

Starting David Price in the minors will pay dividends for the Rays down the stretch, but I don't think they'll be able to keep up.

The signing of Pat Burrell could be nice, but they already have Carlos Pena to put up great power numbers with a crappy batting average. They need people to get on base unless they want to live on solo home runs.

Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton...mmmm, nice! But there are still significant holes in the lineup, wheras the Yanks and Sox don't have any automatic outs.

4) Toronto Blue Jays (76-86)
Roy, Roy, Roy. You need to get out of Toronto, buddy. Another 20-win season for Halladay, another bottom-feeding finish for the Jays.

Burnett bounced, and Alex Rios and Vernon Wells continue to be the only intimidating names in the lineup. The Jays are going to need solid production out of unusual places to make any noise this time around.

5) Baltimore Orioles (70-92)
Jeremy Guthrie isn't really the Orioles' opening day starter, is he? Oh dear. Nick Markakis continues to fly under the radar, Brian Roberts continues to silently put up amazing numbers, and Adam Jones is only getting better, but without pitching, these guys are sellers at the trading deadline.

They have some great youth coming in, namely Matt Wieters, one of the top catching prospects in the minors. He's down on the farm to start the season, likely an Evan Longoria-type move from last year, to delay arbitration by a year, but again, it isn't enough yet.

I'd love to keep feeling bad for them, but they'd finish at the bottom in most divisions. It's just the Blue Jays of last year I felt bad for.

Coming sooner than later: N.L. East

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