American League East Preview

The American League East is MLB’s elite division, and not just because of the dominance of East Coast media markets. The top four teams are, simply, stronger than any other division can hope to field. The Blue Jays, for instance, whom many people pick to finish fourth (not me!) would win the NL Central and they’d run away with the NL West. Consider that under MLB’s new Wild Card format, three AL East teams would have been in the postseason, and you get the idea.

In order of last year’s finish:

New York Yankees:

Good: Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, and Alex Rodriquez have been and remain the best infield in baseball. Curtis Granderson has adjusted to the Bronx and is a superb player. Brett Gardner can fly and is probably the best defensive left fielder in the AL. Hideki Kuroda will solidify the pitching staff, Michael Pineda looks to have talent to burn, and even at age 42 Mo Rivera sets the standard for closers. CC Sabathia is one of the best pitchers in baseball. He doesn’t always put up gaudy numbers simply because he doesn’t need to in order to win.

Bad: It’s an old club, which makes durability an issue. A-Rod’s albatross contract makes it hard to add pieces when necessary and he’s simply not worth $32 million, especially given the precariousness of his health. Andruw Jones as a fourth outfielder? Why? I’m not impressed by Raul Ibanez as DH; I’d rather see if Jorge Vazquez can hit major league pitching.

Hot Seat: Young Mr. Pineda needs to justify trading away the club’s top prospect. Rafael Soriano must show he’s recovered from his arm woes or his Yankees’ contract will be the last big one he ever sees. Phil Hughes was supposed to be another Roy Halladay; word is that he either steps it up now or he’s gone. A-Rod was supposed to break Barry Bonds’ homerun record (762). He’s an old 36 and needs 134 more. I doubt he’ll catch Babe Ruth (714), let alone Bonds or Aaron. He must have a healthy and productive year or he’ll hear it.

Prognosis: Barring major injuries, pencil in the Yankees for one of the postseason slots.

Tampa Bay Rays;

Good: As it’s been for the past five years, pitching. Who wouldn’t want a staff of Hellickson, Price, Shields, Matt Moore, Wade Davis, and Jeff Niemann? Wow!

Bad: Anyone in the starting lineup not named Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce, or Ben Zobrist, the latter two of whom are merely good, not spectacular. I’ll be damned if I see the attraction of Carlos Pena. Sure he hit 23 dingers and knocked in 80, but $10 million for .225, 111 hits and 161 strikeouts? Luke Scott might help, but he doesn’t hit for average either on a team that last year was just 23rd in team batting average.

Hot Seat: This is Reed Brignac’s year to prove he belongs at short and not in AA. Kyle Farnsworth has never been consistent and must prove he can be. And then there’s mystery man B. J. Upton, the guy who has been the cusp of stardom longer than Matthew McConaughey and is every bit as overpaid.

Prognosis: The pitching is good enough to cover many flaws, but if one or two of the staff has an off year, it will be a DNQ year for the Rays, which is what I think will happen. There’s simply no depth to the lineup.

Boston Red Sox:

Good: The lineup is potentially fearsome: Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, and lightening rod Dustin Pedroia. Jon Lester is among the premier southpaws in the game, Alfredo Aceves is versatile and valuable, Clay Buchholz looks as if he might become what the Yankees’ Phil Hughes hasn’t. Cody Ross was a great addition.

Bad: Chemistry. How will the Sox adjust to their historic collapse? Will Bobby Valentine light a fire under them, or induce a backlash that further entrenches the rotten ‘tude that sank the team? Let’s just say that Josh Beckett’s “apologies” have sounded neither deep nor sincere. The catching is uninspiring and shortstop looks to be a gaping hole unless young Jose Iglesias hits higher than his weight (175 lbs.). The Daniel Bard experiment doesn’t hold much promise. I said the Sox should have traded him two years ago; this year I think he’ll prove me correct.

Hot Seat: Bobby V, whose reputation vastly exceeds his results. If he hasn’t mellowed, it will be a short and tumultuous term in the Olde Towne. Beckett either mans up or is gone. Andrew Bailey must replace Pabelbon as closer; many don’t think he’ll survive the Boston media piranhas. Carl Crawford? If the seat gets any hotter his rump will catch fire. For reasons that escape me entirely, many within the organization are waiting for Youkilis to falter so they can toss him aside for Will Middlebrooks. I’d like to be the GM to catch him; a healthy Youk is Wade Boggs with a better glove and more power.

Prognosis: The Red Sox are the biggest mystery in baseball. They should be hungrier than a boatload of refugees, but they’ve been lackadaisical thus far. This baffles me. These guys have got to know they’re gone if they don’t produce. There are only two outcomes for the Red Sox–win the AL East or wait for the moving van.

Toronto Blue Jays:

Good: I’d hate to be a baseball and have Bautista, Encarnacion, Lind, and Colby Rasmus take hunks out of me. And this doesn’t even include emerging players such as catcher J P Arencibia, Brent Lawrie, Yunel Escobar, and Rajal Davis. Improve the on-base percentage (OBP) and this lineup is terrifying.

Bad: The pitching is maddeningly inconsistent, starting with Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil, guys who are untouchable one night and batting practice hurlers the next. The Jays were in the top ten in nearly every hitting category, except hits and OBP. They were in the bottom five in most pitching categories and the defense was 18th.

Hot Seat: If the bad numbers were a product of youth, the Jays are going to be a very, very good team this year. If, on the other hand, they are the numbers of prospects who were overhyped, it’s another fourth place finish. All of the pitchers need to improve, but none more so than Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan, and Kyle Drabek, especially the latter. Drabek was the linchpin of the Roy Halladay trade and his 2011 ERA was over six; that’s simply unacceptable.

Prognosis: This is my hunch team. I look for the Jays to shock the experts and make the postseason.

Baltimore Orioles:

Good: An outfield of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Endy Chavez isn’t too shabby. Matt Wieters is just getting started. When healthy, Brian Roberts is a terrific bat. J. J. Hardy is also capable.

Bad: The pitching was dead last in ERA and near the bottom in most other categories. It’s simple: if you pitch badly, you lose badly. Count me among the Mark Reynolds detractors. Here’s what you get for 32 homers: an appalling 196 strikeouts, just 118 hits, and 36 errors. Ugh!

Hot Seat: GM Dan Duquette has his work cut out for him. Arrieta, Britton, and Matusz all look as if they need more time at AAA; instead they’re the 1-3 starters. Will they figure it out before their confidence is shattered? The odds are increasingly long.

Prognosis: Finishing fourth would be a huge step forward. But it won’t happen.


1. Yankees (Conditional upon the Red Sox not recovering)

2. Blue Jays (Yep--going out on a limb)

3. Red Sox (Beckett is poison and should have been traded)

4. Rays (Pitching galore but can’t hit John Goodman’s butt with a barn door)

5. Orioles (Can hit but not early and often. Can’t pitch garbage into a bin.)

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