Home > Uncategorized > American League East Preview: Well, It Won’t Be Toronto

American League East Preview: Well, It Won’t Be Toronto

I’m not sure why, but this spring training season has gotten out of the way pretty quickly. Last year, it seemed to linger forever. But we’re just two days away from the first regular-season game, three days away from “opening day” and five days away from the first 30-team schedule date. In anticipation of a new dawn for the greatest sport around — no arguments — I’ll be touching on each division with a not-so-thorough preview.

The American League East is loaded once again. So which deserving squad will be left out of the playoffs this year because of its unfortunate position in said loaded division?

1. New York Yankees

I’m not going to project a win total, but the Yankees will take the American League East again. I feel like there’s not much I can say about the Yankees that everybody doesn’t already know. Did you hear they have this really good infield? Yeah, I like the prospects for this Jeter kid.

You know about him, Teixeira, Cano and A-Rod. Jorge Posada won’t be a great fantasy bet this year because the team wants to rest him every few games, so get ready to see a good dose of Francisco Cervelli. And if he has to miss time, no sweat; four of the Yankees’ top-10 prospects are catchers.

Curtis Granderson should have a great year with that short fence in right, even if he does bats sixth. In a similar vein, Nick Johnson batting second is a great idea. He is a great fit with his .402 career on-base percentage. There may be a bit of a problem with the Brett Gardner/Randy Winn platoon in left, but that’s nitpicking. Either one of those guys will bat ninth.

The rotation got deeper with the acquisition of Javier Vazquez. His first stop with the Yankees wasn’t very successful and he won’t be a Cy Young candidate as he was with the Braves last year. But as a No. 4 starter, Vazquez is a terrific value. Phil Hughes won the fifth starter job, but he won’t be needed until late April, thanks to the Yankees’ awkward early season schedule.

Thus, Joba Chamberlain is back in the bullpen for another year. He may not love it, but it certainly has worked for the good of the team. Who knows when Mariano Rivera will finally start to fall off, but he’s still not hinting at such an event. Behind him are a quality group of relievers, including Chan Ho Park, Damaso Marte and Dave Robertson, who was one of the team’s best relievers late last season.

One thing you may not realize about the Yankees is they are not as geriatric as you may think. The right side of the infield is still under 30 (although Teixeira hits that 3-0 in a couple of weeks). CC Sabathia is still not yet 30, nor is Granderson, Gardner or Nick Swisher. Obviously, Hughes and Chamberlain aren’t even close. Vazquez and A.J. Burnett are 33, which isn’t too bad for pitchers. So if people believe this is the year that age becomes painfully evident in the Bronx, they need to take another look at a critical 40 percent of their opening-day roster.

Here's hoping the Rays keep Carl Crawford at least for the full season

2. Tampa Bay Rays

I’ve talked a lot in previous posts about how pitching sets otherwise even teams apart. But when it comes to deciding between the Rays and the Red Sox for second place in the AL East (aka winners of the wild card), I understand Tampa Bay may be at a slight disadvantage in the starting arms race, but they make up for it with clear advantages with the bats and in the bullpen.

James Shields is not a prototypical ace with his declining K rate, but he is a durable guy who will turn in plenty of quality starts. Behind him are four pitchers with a lot of nasty stuff who need to put it all together. Matt Garza is trending in the right direction. He just needs to make sure his emotions don’t cause him to lose his focus — as much. It’s OK to go crazy every few months or so. If he gets some more run support, he can be a 15-game winner with ease.

Jeff Niemann is kind of a late bloomer, but he finally displayed the ability of a former top-5 pick last season and there’s no reason to believe he can’t improve with a few more innings. Control has been a problem for David Price, and Wade Davis has been battered this spring, but if they pitch as effectively as everyone says they can, this is a relentless staff.

The bullpen is also deep with good arms. The confident Rafael Soriano joins a group that has a couple of other guys with recent closing experience — J.P. Howell and Dan Wheeler. Grant Balfour can be dominant. Randy Choate was just death on lefties last season. Overall, I have fewer worries about this bullpen than the one in Boston.

You’d be right for saying that Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett put up unexpected/career-high seasons last year. If you want to doubt this lineup for that reason, go ahead. Conversely, B.J. Upton has nowhere to go but up. Put together with popular MVP pick Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, that’s two-thirds of a killer lineup. That outfield is going to be amazing when Desmond Jennings brings his speed to the big leagues.

That’s another thing about the Rays. They have some great young players down on the farm — Tampa Bay is going to have to find some place for Jeremy Hellickson in that crowded rotation at some point. They should be able to contend for a numerous years.

3. Boston Red Sox

Starting pitching is obviously not the reason behind this predicted non-postseason season. Josh Beckett will start the season’s first game, but it doesn’t matter what order you put them in (Lester, Beckett, Lackey for me); the Red Sox have the best trio of consecutive starters in the game. Tim Wakefield and Clay Buchholz aren’t as impressive to me as a Price-Davis or Vazquez-Hughes couple but it’s respectable. And don’t forget about Daisuke Matsuzaka quite yet.

The Red Sox know that they badly need David Ortiz's power for six months

Jonathan Papelbon will be a stud once again, but those who are expected to bridge the gap between him and the starters regressed to some degree last season. I like Daniel Bard, but Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen took a step back and I am concerned.

The positives for the Red Sox’s lineup: Kevin Youkilis, a full season with Victor Martinez and Dustin Pedroia.

Then you have a couple of gnats in Marco Scutaro and Jacoby Ellsbury. Adrian Beltre’s defense is a huge plus, but he and J.D. Drew are nothing more than decent hitters, and we all know how injury prone Drew is, but Beltre missed 51 games last season. Mike Cameron is an extremely streaky hitter. Whatever David Ortiz will do is a mystery. He ended last season with some pretty nice numbers considering he was atrocious for the first two months or so. Then he flopped again during the team’s playoff appearance.

But more than any of the team’s upgrades in the field, Boston needs Ortiz to produce all season. The Red Sox have a lot of good hitters, but in this powerful division, there are destined to be a lot of 12-10 games no matter who is on the mound. I just don’t think the Red Sox have the personnel to keep up when one of those slugfests break out.

4. Baltimore Orioles

As I alluded to in the previous paragraph, the Orioles are not some walk-over team any longer. Sure, Brian Roberts is showing some signs of decline and Miguel Tejada isn’t a great choice as a cleanup hitter. But they are still good options to place around blossoming stars such as Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold. Nick Markakis is a typical No. 3 hitter and Luke Scott can knock out 30 homers.

And the team signed Joey Gathright, so you can probably guess what this link leads to. That never gets old.

It'll take a little bit of time, but Adam Jones and the Orioles are building their way back into contention

But the Orioles are going to be seen often in those 12-10 games because of their pitching. Kevin Millwood is the No. 1, but it feels like he is being brought in more to teach than pitch. Brian Matusz is Baltimore’s best pitching prospect and he is joined in the rotation by Brian Bergesen and David Hernandez. Chris Tillman didn’t make the starting five, but he’ll get plenty of innings as well. That quartet’s only regular season experience came in 2009. So while they may be talented, they still have a ton to learn. This rotation will take plenty of lumps in 2010.

Mike Gonzalez will close and is supported by Cla Meredith, Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara. But it’s nothing special.

5. Toronto Blue Jays

Boy, with Roy Halladay in a different league, you can truly realize how bad of a team this is. The good news is that Adam Lind and Aaron Hill are still around. Those are two power-hitting building blocks and Travis Snider might add another block. Outside of that, it’s going to be a painful 162 for the Blue Jays. Vernon Wells is stealing money. The infield, other than Hill, is extremely mediocre.

And yes, the pitching staff is worse. The Blue Jays go from Halladay to Shaun Marcum, who missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He will get the call on April 5. Ricky Romero was very good last season until he hit that proverbial wall right around the All-Star break. Considering the options, he’ll do as the team’s No. 2 pitcher, but he could very well end up atop this rotation by midseason. And it doesn’t help that two potential starters, Brandon Morrow and Mark Rzepczynski, already have some health issues.

Jason Frasor has won that highly covered competition to be the Jays’ closer. The media were all over that one, weren’t they? That could mean the bullpen has three potential closers in the bullpen with Frasor, Kevin Gregg and Scott Downs. Now the Blue Jays just need to figure out how to get through the first seven or eight innings.

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  1. radman
    June 4, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    jays are good..bad expectation from your end

    • spokes310
      June 8, 2010 at 10:44 pm

      Looking at that roster in March, could you really expect that it would lead all of North America in home runs — by a WIDE margin — and strikeouts? I mean, Jose Bautista? Seriously?
      Vernon Wells was supposed to be done.
      Shaun Marcum hadn’t pitched in a year.
      I’ll give the likes of Ricky Romero their due. He’s got pedigree and a lot of talent.
      But this is still a shock to the baseball world. If you bet against my prediction, I hope you won a lot of money.

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