That's Why They Play The Games: '08 AL East

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sox.yanks.JPGLast year the Red Sox took the AL East lead on April 18, and never looked back. The Yankees mounted a late charge and got the division it's 9th wild card in 13 years. Of course this was all covered ad nauseum by the MSM, since they act like the Sox and Yankees are the only teams playing baseball. Here, we couldn't care less since Rob and I are followers of the Cleveland Spiders and Seattle Pilots, respectively. But in the interest of you, the reader, I'll tackle the division preview after the jump.

Playing in the AL East: The last recession proof occupation!
5. Baltimore Orioles
The Good:
  • If the Brian Roberts trade ever happens, the team will at the very least be able to make a legitimate claim at rebuilding. Smart fans will be willing to give new president Andy MacPhail the benefit of the doubt.

  • New CF Adam Jones, acquired in the Erik Bedard deal, is likeable , exciting and supremely talented. He'll make enough wow plays to keep heads in a bunch of games.

  • The Orioles have stuck with Nick Markakis a young slugger and fellow Greek. That leaves a legitimate power threat in the middle of an otherwise longball lacking lineup.

  • Jeremy Guthrie and Adam Loewen both have futures as solid major league arms. Hopefully the O's can get back to respectability before they have to lose them.
The Bad:
  • Outside of Markakis and Jones, the lineup is atrocious. Kevin Millar is batting cleanup, and in perhaps the biggest indictment of this team, he's their "star." While Jay Gibbons starts the season in the 15 game steroid box, Aubrey Huff (the female Jay Gibbons) will hit fifth. Yes Oriole fans, Aubrey Huff will be protecting your cleanup hitter, Kevin Millar.

  • Daniel Cabrera managed to secure an extension even though everyone I know and/or read seems to hate him.

  • Peter Angelos still owns the team (keep smilin Pete!).

  • If the Brian Roberts trade ever happens, the team will at the very least be able to make a legitimate claim at rebuilding.

Welcome, Dave Trembley! This is your last place team in the AL East for at least the next two seasons. Tampa is finished being a doormat for now, and the Blue Jays still have a (fading) spark. But I trust MacPhail and one of Angelos' heart valves to get this team back on the right track. It's a waste of a great ballpark and some great fans otherwise.

Predictions: 68-94; Daniel Cabrera commits walk, balk and wild pitch on single batter; Kevin Millar's Discman finally breaks; Melvin Mora picks the wrong day to fuck a sleeping crab.

4. Tampa Bay Rays
The Good:
  • Scott Kazmir and James Shields are another potent young 1-2 punch and they're leading the parade of youngsters that has what seems like every baseball person in America expecting something good from the Rays.

  • If you weren't paying attention, you may have thought that prospect Evan Longoria had already won the '08 ROY.

  • All-Star Carl Crawford is still the catalyst for a lineup that also includes last year's Meat Loaf Comeback Player Of The Year, Carlos Pena, and triples king Akinori Iwomura.

The Bad:
  • Tampa's Bullpen ERA last year was a totally unreal 6.16. To remedy that they've inserted... Troy Percival? I've heard his ball is still moving, and his numbers in St Louis weren't bad, but I need to see it to believe it.

  • For chemistry reasons, lots of people liked the trade of Delmon Young for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. What I see is one of the most potent bats in the AL getting traded for an unproven third starter and an average infielder.

Forgive me for not drinking the Kool-Aid on this one. Like I said during our gripping episode of Treehouse Fort, Tampa is no doubt improved, but it still takes a bigger leap of faith to slot them in 3rd place than it does Toronto. Career years need to be had for more players, more things have to fall into place, and watching this division every year precludes me from being an optimist when it comes to this organization.

Predictions: 77-82 record; B.J. Upton holds a press conference to announce he's the "all time greatest Upton" and wipes his ass with a copy of The Jungle, Jonny Gomes will not stop making jokes about "The Shocker." We get it, dude.

3. Toronto Blue Jays
The Good:
  • A healthy rotation of Roy Halladay, AJ Burnett, Shawn Marcum, Jesse Litsch, and Gustavo Chacin, has to rank as one of the best in baseball. Even after losing Casey Janssen for the season, the bullpen is still solid despite lingering questions about BJ Ryan.

  • The addition of the mentally unstable Scott Rolen could shake up a clubhouse that already has a good mix of young (Aaron Hill, Alex Rios) and veteran (Frank Thomas, Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay) hitting.

The Bad:
  • Rolen is hurt, BJ Ryan is "resting," and AJ Burnett is liable to spontaneously combust. More injuries are going to lead to a vulnerable team, and a very vulnerable manager.

  • Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay both had off years in 2007. Despite the fact I feel like he's 41 years old, Wells is only 29 and Overbay is 30. It's imperative the Jays get rebound years from both. It's tough to get these things in pairs...

When Rolen's finger heals this Blue Jay team is going to have one of the better balances of pitching and offense in the entire league. If I just looked at the players on that roster, and had no knowledge of their often catastrophic injury histories, I'd be tempted to plug them in ahead of the Yankees, but I just don't trust all of these bones, muscles and ligaments.

Predictions: 83-79 record; Frank Thomas sends me $27 for all the allowance I spent on his baseball cards

2. New York Yankees
The Good:
  • It's the first year of the rest of the Yankees life, with three young arms that weren't mortgaged for veteran players ready to play major roles. And there's a good reason they weren't traded. We've already seen plenty of Joba Chamberlain, but not so much of Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy. If they all come anywhere near the hype the Yankees are well positioned on the mound for this year, and beyond.

  • Yes, this lineup is old and some of its members are overpaid. But, damn they can still score runs. And that was with off year's (or injuries) to Abreu, Matsui, Giambi and Damon.

  • New manager Joe Girardi brings his much talked about "fire" to the team. So much, in fact, that the Yankees are giving out free decockizations to Spring Training opponents!

The Bad:
  • Andy Pettite has found it nearly impossible to stay healthy this Spring. Mike Mussina found it just as hard to get people out last year. This is the part of the rotation that leaves very little wiggle room for the young guys to get adjusted. For better or worse, Chien-Ming Wang is the only bona fide ace of this staff.

  • This is a team that needed a late surge to make the playoffs and was subsequently bounced in the first round. The only offseason moved were adding LaTroy Hawkins and Morgan Ensberg. Where's the marked improvement?

Predictions: 92-70 record; Jason Giambi runs away one night, only gets as far as neighbor's house; Someone finally tells Yogi Berra to shut up.

1. Boston Red Sox
The Good:
  • Boston was able to stand pat after the World Series due to youth in some key positions. The arms of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz will be called on, especially with preseason injuries to Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling. Jacoby Ellsbury has all but taken CF from Coco Crisp. While it will be impossible for him to live up to expectations, he's still rookie eligible and could put up some big numbers, especially on the basepaths.

  • David Ortiz spent most of last year "struggling" with a knee injury, but is coming in to this season at 100%. Manny has two $20 million options on the table and seems supremely confident that the Sox are going to pick them up. He's been driving the ball all Spring, and these two could be back to peak form.

  • Doofus Jonathan Papelbon is one of the most dominating closers in baseball and also the player I would probably hate the most in all of baseball if he wasn't on my favorite team. The rest of the bullpen is also strong, they had the second lowest ERA in all of baseball in '07, and added David Aardsma, first in your hearts and your phonebooks.

The Bad:
  • There is potential for drop-off from Lowell, Pedroia, Okajima, and Youkilis. There is necessary improvement from Drew and Matsusaka. Which combination of these factors they get will say a lot about the team's season.

  • Back spasms aren't injuries that tend to just go away, and Beckett's could prove to be a real thorn in the team's side as the year progresses.

  • Jason Varitek is getting oooold and slipping into his Gedman years.

They ran the AL East nearly wire to wire and are showing more indications that the team is better than it is worse. Go ahead and call me a homer, but who would you really pick to win this division besides them?

Predictions: 99-63 record; Terry Francona markets a hybrid gum/tobacco/sunflower seed called Masticate This!; Luis Alicea leaves his position as first base coach to become an olympic women's gymnast.

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I strongly disconcur with all of your predictions. The Cleveland Spiders will certainly finish in 3rd place.

The Red Sox also don't have a Trip McNeely type awkwardly hanging around their dugout and getting into fights with baby-faced Tampa Bay outfielders. Advantage: Sox.

I think Dustin McGowan is the #3 starter for the Jays this year.

and i agree about Papelbon. Shut Up and Save.

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