MLB Preview American League East

Baltimore Orioles:

For a team with a proud tradition and the best ballpark in America, it’s shocking to see the Orioles in such a sorry state. It will get worse before it gets better.

Strengths: An outfield of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and either Luke Scott or Felix Pie isn’t bad. Rich Hill will help the pitching staff and George Sherrill can be a premier closer if he gets enough chances. Melvin Mora (3B) has a good bat and Brian Roberts is solid at second, though he’s not the superstar he’s advertised to be.

Weaknesses: Just about everything else. Gregg Zaun as the everyday catcher? A pitching staff with just one pitcher who won ten games or had an ERA of under five (Jeremy Guthrie)? Cesar Izturis as the starting shortstop? Not enough in MLB’s toughest division.

Boston Red Sox:

The Sox are gambling that Takashi Saito can pitch in the AL, that John Smoltz has gas left in the tank, that Tim Wakefield is ageless, that Rocco Baldelli and Mike Lowell are physically fit, that Jacoby Ellsbury and Hideki Okajima weren’t just flashes in the pan, that J. D. Drew will justify his contract, that Brad Penny isn’t a bum, and that somebody can catch a knuckleball.

Strengths: Who wouldn’t want a staff that includes Josh Beckett, John Lester, Wakefield, and closer Jonathan Papelbon? Kevin Youkilis is the best pure hitter since Wade Boggs, Dustin Pedroia is the reigning MVP, and David Ortiz remains a dangerous hitter.

Weaknesses: The catching is weak and they should have moved on from Jason Varitek. Yes, Penny is a bum and no, J. D. Drew never will be special. Why they ever wanted Julio Lugo (SS) is a mystery, but his competition, Jed Lowrie, lacks range and ought to play third. Dice-K luckier than good last year. He can’t count on a repeat. This team is simultaneously deep and fragile. It could win it all, or finish third.

New York Yankees:

If the Yankees stay healthy—a big if on a team with rehabbing players (Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Chien-Ming Wang, Mo Rivera), aging stars (Johnny Damon, Andy Pettite), and fragile arms (A. J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain)—the new Yankee Stadium will be baptized with banner number 27.

Strengths: With Sabathia on board the Yankees pitching looks formidable. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy are just about ready if a starter goes down. Don’t be surprised if Mark Melanchon emerges as Rivera’s heir apparent, and Phil Coke adds lefty depth. The infield—Teixeira, Cano, Jeter and A-Rod—is the best in baseball.

Weaknesses: The defense is weak and the outfield is so unimpressive that another personnel move is likely. If A-Rod continues to self-destruct, the Yankees may bite a big financial bullet and try to move him.

Tampa Bay Rays:

They may be the reigning AL champs, but I think they overachieved last year and will tumble in ’09.

Strengths: Pitching is the key to the Rays. Unless the young arms burn out—as happened to the Tigers’ staff—Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, and Andy Sonnanstine is pretty darn good, and Dave Price looks to be a stud. Evan Longoria has emerged as a star at third, and pitchers do not want B. J. Upton or Carl Crawford on the base path. Everybody on the team fields well.

Weaknesses: It’s hard to imagine that all of the pitchers will repeat their 2008 performances, and Kazmir doesn’t have the makeup of an ace. The Rays lineup is solid, but not imposing. Carlos Pena (1B) hits for power, but little else and Pat Burrell struggled to hit .250 in a loaded Phillies lineup against inferior NL pitching. Troy Percival’s days as a top closer are long past. If anything happens to Navarro, catching will be a problem.

Toronto Blue Jays:

Poor Toronto—just a few pieces short two years ago, then the economy soured, Burnett bolted, Vernon Wells got hurt, and Scott Rolen is seldom 100%. It could be a long year.

Strengths: Roy Halladay—the best right-hander in baseball. Alex Rios is on the cusp of stardom and, if healthy, B. J. Ryan will close out the game.

Weaknesses: After Halladay it’s a big falloff to Jesse Litsch. What’s it tell you when a team is looking at adding Matt Clement to its rotation? The everyday lineup features names such as Scutaro, Hill, Snider, and Barajas, so don’t expect Lexus performances on a Corolla budget.


1. Yankees—Simply too strong to be denied.
2. Red Sox—It’s unlikely all the stars will align, but enough for a Wild Card.
3. Rays—The year in which reality descends.
4. Orioles—Will slug their way out of the basement.
5. Jays—Will give up a lot of runs and won’t score many.

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