Time for the last AL preview. Rob's got one more coming for the NL East, then it's time to take it to the field. Here are the ones we've already done. His are much better than mine.
Eat it, objectivity. You know why we save this one for last in the AL every year? It's the Grandaddy Of Them All. The AL East has baseball's two most successful franchises (The You Know Whos and The What's Their Names) and one could make the argument that the three best teams in the league all reside here (throw in Tampa). Not only does the division have more than a handful of marquee starting pitchers, but either the Red Sox or Yankees have led the AL in scoring for 6 of the last 7 years. Don't have 95 wins? Get lost. I will now ascend the steps of the golden temple to suss out a Chosen One.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
- Shaun Marcum missed the entirety of 2009 after having Tommy John surgery, but I sure loved his stuff before he got hurt. He's looking strong enough for Clarence to have named him the Opening Day starter. Dustin McGowan was also looking like he was getting ready to pitch his first innings since '08 but just hit a snag. Ricky Romero had a decent 2009 and if he can improve on that K/BB ratio he could be the best second year starter in the league.
- Adam Lind and Aaron Hill combined for 71 HR last year. That's a ton. They'll remain the heart of the order (with a possible sprinkling of Travis Snider). They also combined for 208 Ks to 100 BBs. That's kinda bad.
- They lost some guy named Halladay. After Marcum and Romero, the rotation has Brandon Morrow and Marc Rzepczynski, neither of whom have ever pitched more than 70 innings in a season and The Immortal Brian Tallet.
- Lots of at bats from Edwin Encarnation, Jose Bautista and Alex Gonzalez. Also, Jays fans have to pray for a continuation of the Every Other Year Vernon Wells Is Good thing.
Predictions: 67-95 record, John Buck inherits Rod Barajas' Waverunner and rides it out to the middle of Lake Ontario where he strips down naked to "help free Mumia." The world learns that all Toronto catchers are given Waverunners, but it may not be a good idea for the voluble and viruently leftist Buck.
4. Baltimore Orioles
- How about that outfield? Nick Markakis is the defacto leader on offense, and while he Felix Pie is waiting for playing time. Solid.
- Kevin Millwood was brought in, and as much fun as we like to have around here with The Kev, he had a pretty good 2010 and pitches a lot of innings. That'll be no small help to a rotation that has seen approximately 81 promising young arms flame out in the past decade.
- Brad Bergesen and Brian Matusz are two rooks in rotation that everyone seems high on. Matusz, especially, has been dazzling 'em this Spring.
- Matt Walters? Walker? Fetters? Something like that. Anyway I guess their catcher is supposed to be good.
- The good things on this team are all real young. Markakis, Millwood, Jones (kinda), Brian Roberts and Miguel Tejada are the only dudes with substantial MLB experience. There are lots of growing pains to be worked out on the field for everyone else.
- Their bullpen will probably suck again.
Predictions: 75-87 record, Following a disastrous stint in Colorado, Melvin Mora retires and returns to Camden Yards opening up an eel on a stick stand next to Boog's BBQ called "More Of Mora's Impaled Morays." It is even more disastrous than his stint in Colorado.
3. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
- Longoria-Crawford-Pena-Zobrist can hold it's own against almost any other lineup 4some in the game from a bat standpoint. Bringing in Kelly Shoppach to split time or possibly replace the offensively abysmal Dioner Navarro also looks like a good move. Even Jason Bartlett had pop in 2009.
- James Shields has been a rock in the rotation for a few seasons now, and 2010 looks like the year that Matt Garza will emerge as an ace if he doesn't have a brain aneurysm first. Jeff Niemann is looking ot build on a career year and year two of David Price Takes The Majors should also be an improvement on the first.
- The bullpen is very good on paper, as illustrated with colors and numbers by these guys. But there are localized rumblings that JP Howell's recent arm troubles could send the whole thing crashing down.
- Their defense continues to be one of the best in baseball.
- With the Rays counting on him for power, Pat Burrell had a lousy year in 2009. But it was his first year in the AL and this is also a contract year. If he was younger you could see it going either way, but as it is he could be toast.
- If BJ Upton keeps regressing at the plate he may just disappear.
- Joe Maddon is wicked annoying.
Predictions: 85-77 record, With no production from the DH troika of Burrell, Gabe Kapler and Hank Blalock the Rays sign Dean Palmer, who is promptly suspended for steroids.
2. Boston Red Sox
- There are several teams making the claim, but The Red Sox probably have the best top to bottom starting rotation in baseball, despite the uncertainty with Daisuke Matsuzaka. Especially if they Do The Right Thing and just make Clay Buchholz the fifth starter when Dice-K returns. Enough with the 6 man rotation talk.
- Rad Theo had a fine offseason. The Red Sox act like money is a factor when it really isn't. They lost the ability to play that card when they signed a third starter for $90M, just like the Yankees. So with that in mind, the Lackey signing was a good one. After getting by over the past couple years with near death cameos from John Smoltz, Paul Byrd and Brad Penny, Lackey takes that out of the equation.
- Acquisitions at position player have both offensive and defensive components. Defensively, Mike Cameron is an upgrade in center over Jacoby Ellsbury, Ellsbury is an upgrade over Jason Bay in Left, and Adrian Beltre is an upgrade over the modern day injury plagued Mike Lowell. Marco Scutaro isn't an upgrade over Alex Gonzalez at short, but he's a fine fielder in his own right.
- Losing Bay's offense can be recouped with a full season from Victor Martinez, and Scutaro coming close to his '09 numbers in lieu of the Lowrie/Lugo/Gonzalez SSThing. Cameron himself has had 20+ HR each of the last 4 seasons.
- Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia are as close to healthy sure things as the Red Sox have seen since I've been a baseball fan and JD Drew went to Florida State.
- David Ortiz still holds a key role in this lineup and there is no indication he'll return to his glory days. It's more about him finding the median between his years as an MVP candidate and the futile fanning that plagued him for the entire first half of last year. If Mike Lowell wasn't occupying this strange land where he plays for the Red Sox but no one acts like it, he could be a viable backup at DH. But itseems a foregone he's gone. And he's hurt again. This leaves Jeremy Hermida as the biggest bat off the bench.
- Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon are solid for the 8th and 9th inning. Ramon Ramirez is also a good one inning reliever. It's getting to those guysin long relief that will prove to be the problem for the bullpen. Manny Delcarmen is inconsistent. Hideki Okajima regressed in 2009. The other spots in the pen will belong to some combination of Boof Bonser, Scott Atchison, Joe Nelson and Brian Shouse. Unless Dice-K comes back and someone has to move. Uncertainty.
Predictions:96-66 record, Jason Varitek takes up knitting while on the bench and makes a wool tarp for rain delays.
1. New York Yankees
- Well, when you win the World Series you have to really try to get significantly worse the next season. Like the Marlins. But the Yankees didn't do that. They added Javy Vasquez to the rotation. Guys they lost, like Damon and Matsui, may significantly improve their new lineups but they don't take much away from the one in the Bronx. Especially when you add Curtis Granderson.
- Mariano Rivera remains the best closer in baseball. Their whole bullpen had a good 2009 and will be even better if Phil Hughes cuts it as a starter allowing Joba Chamberlain to have a designated role in the bullpen, where he's proven most effective.
- The Vasquez signing did a lot to calm people who still don't see AJ Burnett as a near-ace and saw a huge dropoff in the rotation after Sabathia. But Vasquez has been in New York before and had one of his worst seasons in the majors. Add that to the fact that even with last season's renaissance in Atlanta he's been inconsistent at best over the past 5 or 6 years. What if he underperforms again? What if Burnett underperforms? What if Hughes struggles and that 5th spot stays unstable all year? Do you see how many hypotheticals I had to come with for something to put in "The Bad"?
Predictions: 97-65 record, Robinson Cano changes his name, and will only answer to, Dookie "Blood Spitting Crocodile Messiah" Crocodilemessiah-Thompson.