Time to reveal my predictions for the best division in baseball, the AL East.
1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles
Best Hitter: Kevin Youkilis
Best Pitcher: C.C. Sabathia
The Sox have an aging, but powerful lineup and a strong, deep pitching staff that will eventually lead them to the division title. Reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis lead a lineup that also includes Jason Bay, David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, and J.D. Drew. The final three all have injury concerns though and Jason Varitek isn’t going to provide much offense at the bottom of the order. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester lead a rotation that is deeper than any other starting staff in the majors with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, and Brad Penny rounding it up. John Smoltz is due back in June and Clay Buchholz is still in Triple-A though he is major-league ready. Papelbon leads a dominating bullpen that posses multiple pitchers capable of being set-up men. The Sox dominating pitchers and powerful lineup make them a definite candidate for the AL East. For a more in depth preview of the Sox, check the Red Sox page in the upcoming days.
The Yankees have a powerful pitching staff and an all-star lineup, but questions about age make this team a liability. Adding C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to accompany Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, and Joba Chamberlain to give New York one of the top rotation’s in the league. Questions remain about how Sabathia will adjust to New York and if Pettitte can rebound from a tough 2008 season. A huge pick-up this past offseason, Mark Teixeira will lead the Yankees’ offense, but the age of Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada all remain big concerns. Alex Rodriguez is the biggest concern of all with his hip injury as well as how he will react to the deep hatred he’ll receive at each ballpark. Mariano Rivera once again owns the closer role, but the Yankees are worried that he may not hold up for the entire season. New York possesses as much talent as any other team in the league, but age and injury issues will eventually prevent them from winning their division.
The defending American League champions are going to have a tougher season this year as many important players who had outstanding years for Tampa last year are going to fall back to their normal levels of production. The offense is still strong with Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, and a possible resurgence of Carl Crawford, but it doesn’t stack up to either the Red Sox or Yankees’ offenses. The Rays’ rotation has some solid, young arms with Matt Garza, James Shields, and Scott Kazmir, and that would certainly dominate nearly every other division in the league, but this is the AL East where good, solid pitching doesn’t always win. The Yankees and Sox possess outstanding pitching as well and are deeper than Tampa, which is why the Rays are going to find themselves wishing it were 2008 when October comes.
Toronto still has ace Roy Halladay to fall back on and have a decent lineup, but a lack of depth and talent will leave the Blue Jays fighting for 4th place. Halladay leads the rotation, but after him, Toronto really struggles with Jesse Litsch, David Purcey, Ricky Romero, and Scott Richmond rounding out the staff. In this division, those 2-5 pitchers are going to have some tough games that Toronto better be prepared to watch. In the lineup, Alex Rios and Vernon Wells carry the majority of the load with aging players Scott Rolen and Lyle Overbay helping. The Jays will score some runs as their lineup isn’t terrible, but it can’t compete with any of the Rays, Yanks, or Sox. Even with B.J. Ryan closing, the team just doesn’t have the talent to give themselves any chance to make the playoffs
Even with a couple of offseason acquisitions, the Orioles still find themselves without a true ace and with an aging lineup that will leave themselves in the cellar of the AL East. Jeremy Guthrie leads Baltimore’s rotation that doesn’t have much behind him. Recently signed Koji Euhara will help a little, but there just isn’t enough talent for the Orioles to avoid being beaten on a consistent basis. Brian Roberts leads an offense that is the weakest in the division with few big bats and aging players like Melvin Mora expected to carry too much of the load. The Orioles have a couple of young players in Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters who can help some and will be even better in future years, but this season will be a long one for Orioles’ fans.