|Jeter to Go Out with Glory?|
The Red Sox won the World Series last year, when the experts picked them to finish last. This year they’re picked to win. Uh oh. No matter who you root for, you have to love the scrappy Pedroia, the affable Ortiz, and the blue-collar ethos of Victorino. There are, however, looming questions. Bogaerts may be the shortstop of the future, but when does that begin? Which Middlebrooks shows up, the formerly promising guy, or the recent disappointing one? Can Bradley replace Ellsbury? Will Grady Sizemore ever again be healthy? Can Napoli stay hale? Gomes, Nava, Uehara–go-to guys, or career years in 2013? Is Pierzynski the kind of poison they jettisoned after 2012? Lester and Buchholtz head a talented staff, though I’ve never been sold on Lackey and I wonder how much Peavy has left. Lots of arms at Pawtucket, but until they perform in Boston, they are as useful as an untested postulate.
The Rays are who they always are–great pitchers heading a makeshift lineup. Price, Cobb, Archer, Moore, and Hellickson (currently injured) make up the deepest staff in baseball. If healthy, Balfour gives them a for-real closer. Beyond this, the Rays need to pray that Myers is all he’s cracked up to be, that Longoria isn’t hurt again, and that Zobrist and Loney duplicate 2013, because the rest of these guys couldn’t get hits in heavy traffic. As usual, I think the Rays will be good, but about $30 million in payroll short of being great.
The Yankees? I honestly have no idea. They had nothing last year except Cano and still won 85 games. Are they 5 or 6 games better with McCann, Ellsbury, Beltrán, and Tanaka, but not Cano? The answer begins and ends with the DL–as in avoiding it. If Texeira, Jeter, Roberts, and Sabathia stay healthy and Pineda is back from surgery, the Yankees could shock experts and go to the World Series. Soriano still has pop in his bat, Gardner runs like a deer, Kelly Johnson is usefully versatile, Tanaka has to better than Hughes, and I’m not worried about Robertson replacing Mo Rivera. Watch the DL. If the Yankees don’t dominate it, they might steal the AL East. And you know Derek Jeter will leave nothing on the table in his swan song year.
Two years ago the Orioles were on the cusp. Management let the moment slip away and it doesn’t appear that adding powered-by-steroids Cruz or the enigmatic arm of Jimenéz is enough. The O’s do have a stacked outfield in Jones, Markakis, Reinhold, and Cruz. Machado es muy machista, and Wieters is good (though not as good as advertised). Will Hardy and Davis duplicate 2013? The Orioles can definitely hit, but can they pitch? Not so much. Chen, Tillman, Britton, Norris, and Jimenéz could star in a new reality show titled Surviving on Promise. Their best arm might be Miquel González. I see the O’s on the wrong end of too many 9-6 games.
Speaking of unfulfilled promise, I’ve officially given up on the Blue Jays. Okay, they can hit: Bautista, Encarnacion. Reyes (if healthy), Rasmus, Lind…. They also strike out more than a pimply 14-year-old attending a senior high dance. Signing post-‘roids Melky Cabrera was an expensive mistake and Lawrie looks like a bust. Alas, that’s true of their hurlers as well. Drabek was supposed to make Toronto forget about Halladay; he has, but only because Halladay retired! Morrow has morphed into To-Morrow, and Happ into Happless. I still like Buerhle, but as a 4-5 guy, not an ace. Dickey is 39, was mediocre last year, and trading him after his 2012 Cy Young now looks like one of the Mets’ shrewder moves.
1. Yankees: Despite the holes, this looks like a much better team–if healthy. If not… call ‘em the Tankees and push ‘em to fourth.
2. Red Sox: I simply don’t believe winning a World Series is entirely a matter of luck.
3. Rays: I’ve said it about the Rays for several years: You can’t win it all on the cheap.
4. Orioles: Which is why the Orioles will again be also-rans. Still…
5. Jays: Spending a lot of money doesn’t count if you spend it poorly. And you just don’t win in the AL East with a Walmart pitching staff.