This is the guy the Sox are banking on being healthy?
The American League East is flat-out scary this year. There are no easy wins. While the Yankees and Red Sox may beat up on the rest of the League, they’ll be battling through each game played in the AL East. This division features some of the league’s best hitters (think A-Rod, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Bautista, Evan Longoria to name a few). Oh yeah, four AL East pitchers finished in the top six in AL CY Young voting- Price, Sabathia, Lester and Buchholz. Expect the entire division from top to bottom to grind it out. Whoever comes out of this division should be considered World Series favorites, unless they end up destroying each other in the process.
2- Boston: Everyone and their mother is afraid of the Red Sox. I just don’t see it. Granted, they are a WS favorite, but I don’t picture them being the behemoth that they are made out to be. Boston is basically trading off production by trading for Adrian Gonzalez and letting Adrian Beltre walk. Gonzalez batted .298 with 31 HRs and 101 RBIs. Beltre batted .321 with 28 HRs and 102 RBIs. Boston’s other big offseason addition was Carl Crawford. The Sox lost Victor Martinez and Crawford should put up comparable power numbers, however Crawford gives the Red Sox the ability to run all over opponents. If, and thats a big if, Ellsbury and Pedroia stay healthy, the Sox will have three base runners that can steal bags all day. Youklis, Gonzalez and Ortiz provide three bats that can drive those runs in. The Red Sox’s pitching rotation is among the baseball’s best. Everyone is talking about the Phillies’ aces, but the Sox have several CY Young contenders of their own. Buchholz and Lester finshed top six in CY Young voting last year. The real key though is Beckett, Lackey and Matsuzaka returning from sub-par seasons last year.
3- Tampa Bay: This could easily be the Toronto Blue Jays if they had a little bit more pitching. The Rays took three huge offseason hits (no pun intended) when they lost Crawford, Rafael Soriano, and Carlos Pena to free agency. Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez were signed as replacements. If they can come back from the dead (and not spend too much time scoping out retirement properties in Florida) the Rays may be able to put together a decent season. Perhaps a few injuries up top- think Beckett or Sabathia- and the Rays can compete for a division title or at least a wildcard. AJ Price is still the best pitcher in the division (until the Yankees get King Felix). After that the pitching staff falls off. Bullpen included. You’re not going to win the East with Kyle Farnsworth as your closer. The Yankees could barely do it with Farnsworth as their 7th inning guy.
4- Toronto: Toronto has a phenomenal lineup. They also have a potential ace-in-the making in Ricky Romero. But will that be enough this year? Unfortunately for Canadians the answer is no. The Blue Jays do have a quality closer in Jon Rauch. But other than that this pitching staff is looking pretty thin. However, did I mention that this lineup is stacked? Jose Bautista hit 54 home runs last year, Rajai Davis will probably swipe 50 bags, and Aaron Hill is a good-hitting second baseman. These aren’t your Toronto Blue Jays of the early 2000s, but they are a much better all-around team. It actually makes me nervous to think about the back end of the Yankees rotation facing them. They just aren’t good enough to challenge the rest of this division.
5- Baltimore- Unfortunately the perennial punching bag of the AL East is no longer a punching bag. Don’t be fooled by their fifth place finish. They have stocked up and may finish around .500 for the first time since Derek Jeter via Jeffrey Maier robbed their World Series dreams in 1996. Brian Matusz and Zach Britton are two highly touted pitching prospects. We all know that pitching prospects can go either way (see Joba Chamberlain), but there is definitely hope here. The rotation is anchored by a third starter masquerading as an ace Jeremy Guthrie. Regardless, this is still a decent rotation if the youngsters can perform. Baltimore added Vladimir Guerrero, Derreck Lee and Mark Reynolds in the off season to add a little punch to their lineup. While the Orioles are rightfully slated for last place, the theme in the AL East is still no easy wins.