Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A.L. East Preview

The grass has been mowed, the uniforms are hanging in the lockers and the base lines are chalked. It’s almost time to play ball! The only thing left to do is break it all down. The greatest thing about the game of baseball is that at the beginning of the season no one knows anything…but we’re all allowed to make a guess.

Over the last three seasons the American League East has sent a team to the World Series. Thanks in large part to the free spending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox the East has become the most feared division in baseball over the last decade. The Tampa Bay Rays have recently added their name to the mix of potential postseason contenders, giving the division even more credibility. The Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, once proud franchises, hope to turn things around and put their own marks on the playoff race. Let’s take a look at how things shape up for each team heading into the 2010 season.

The New York Yankees are the defending World Series Champions but no one wants to give them any love after they allowed aging veterans Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui to sign elsewhere in the offseason. The Yanks restocked the shelves by trading for outfielder Curtis Granderson and starting pitcher Javier Vasquez. They also added another solid bat to the lineup when they picked up Nick Johnson on the free agent market. They got a little bit younger, yet analysts feel that Damon and Matsui’s clutch ability, especially in the playoffs, will be sorely missed. It’s tough to agree with that when you actually look at a Yankee lineup that still features Jeter, Teixeira and ARod.

In the off season the Red Sox decided to change the whole makeup of the team, opting to try and slay that mighty Yankee lineup with pitching and defense. Despite the naysayers this is not a bad theory on paper, but now we must see how it plays out on the field. Newcomers include center fielder Mike Cameron, third baseman Adrian Beltre, short stop Marco Scutaro and starting pitcher John Lackey, who will all be under the microscope by fans and media alike this season. The X-factor for the Sox will be David Ortiz. The offense will be better than most people expect with Youkilis and Pedroia as the anchors, but how Ortiz performs will determine its potency and consistency. The starting pitching shouldn’t be an issue at all as the Sox are loaded with three aces, but the middle of the bullpen has some question marks.

The Tampa Bay Rays seem to be a popular pick among the prognosticators this year. Quite frankly, I don’t see it. They didn’t pick up any big names in the offseason and they didn’t lose any either. Therefore they seem primed to stay right where they were last year. The speedy B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford are nightmares on the base paths and Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena will provide ample pop in the lineup. The pitching staff isn’t as strong as in past years, but Matt Garza is a solid ace and if David Price reaches his potential they could carry the bulk of the load. Their weak point is their bullpen, so you can be sure that the Sox and Yankees will look to exploit this whenever possible.

The Toronto Blue Jays are holding on for their dear lives at this point. After unloading Roy Halliday to the Phillies, they will be rebuilding for a long time! Here’s to hoping they’re still in Toronto when they finally pull it together. They do have the talent, but it is young, raw and unpolished. Aaron Hill and Adam Lind are the only viable gems in a pile of coal. Veteran players Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay have seen better days and I challenge you to find me the “stud” of their pitching staff. They do have some intriguing talent in the minors, thanks in part to the Halliday trade, but many of those players are years away from contributing to the Blue Jays.

It seems that for the past five seasons the Baltimore Orioles have been “heading in the right direction” only to finish the season in either 4th or 5th place. This year should be no exception. Catcher Matt Weiters enters his second season in “The Bigs” with high expectations of carrying the offense now and for many seasons to come. Rookie pitcher Brian Matusz is projected to be the future ace of the Orioles staff and facing the heavy hitting teams in the A.L. East should be a true trial by fire. Outfielders Nick Markakis and Adam Jones are the only other bright spots on a roster filled with retreads and “never-beens.” Because of Weiters and Matusz, once again O’s fans believe the team is “heading in the right direction.” Unfortunately that direction is still getting this team nowhere.

Until someone proves that they can be dethroned, the Yankees are the pick to win the division once again this year. The Red Sox will finish second and if they can put everything together as planned then it will be a tight race with the Yankees until the very end of the season. The Rays are a solid third place team but they may be out of it earlier than expected, allowing for them to trade off some big name players whose contracts are up at season’s end. The Orioles will experience some growing pains, but should be able to pull themselves out of the cellar and into 4th place. The lowly Blue Jays don’t stand a chance and they will continue their downward trend in wins, landing them in last place.

Of course anything can happen in the “Grand Old Game.” Injuries and slumps are as common as a 4 hour Yankees-Sox game. But if I can be cliché for a moment; with 162 games to play, the season is most certainly a marathon and not a sprint! Just make sure you stretch out a bit before you start predicting what might happen in the 486 hours of game play to come; because I think I pulled a hammy just writing this.

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