Duet Or Ménage À Trois? An AL East Preview 2010


Last year the Yankees (ugh) took home the ring. The year before, the Rays lost to the Phillies in the World Series. And three years ago, the Red Sox won. Needless to say, the AL East is looking to have a repeat appearance this year. But who?

The Red Sox made some moves to shore up defense, the Yankees lost a few bats, and the Rays and Orioles reloaded with young prospects and solid trades.

So who is going to win?

If the Yankees could get consistent starts from their three-four-five guys, they could win the division.

Is that likely? No.

The Red Sox lost a big bat in Jason Bay but added John Lackey, who could be a number one starter. In actuality, he starting number three, behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. He’ll be followed by the seemingly ageless Wakefield, Dick-K, and the young, talented Clay Buchholz. Now, Dice-K is injured and we’re not really sure how Buchholz is going to do, but if they all bounce back, the Sox could go for a six man rotation.

Not likely, but it could happen.

The Rays, as always, are the Dark Horse. They have iffy pitching and young guys just starting their careers, but they are faster than the Yankees and Red Sox. Not to mention, they are very talented. Of course that youth does lend itself to inconsistency, especially playing in Boston and New York, where the fans can be pretty hostile. Taking that all into consideration, do they win over 90 games?

Eh. Maybe.

The Orioles are better. Not great, but certainly much better than last year. And Toronto…well, we’ll go ahead and label this a rebuilding year for them. They traded away Doc Halladay, it’s to be expected.

So with opening day just hours away (hallelujah!), what else would we do but make predictions on what is going to happen six months from now? Bear in mind I am not using any sort of scientific formulas, stats, or anything on these predictions, which is contrary to the typical baseball fan’s thinking. (Admit it, we love stats!)

I’m doing something new this year, I’m going with my gut. I’ve watched these guys all spring, and this is what I came up with it.

First, my final division standings:

Red Sox
Rays*
Yankees
Orioles
Blue Jays

Call me a homer, but I really like this Red Sox team. They are a little faster, their defense is better, and the addition of John Lackey is a huge boost to the pitching staff. The bullpen is good, and Daniel Bard is waiting in the wings, so if Jonathan Papelbon struggles with closing, he can be replaced. I don’t see that happening, but I’m sure that a little competition would be a good way to get his competitive juices flowing.
Plus, who wants to face a weekend where your pitchers are Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey?
Yikes.
And you’ve got Jacoby Ellsbury, who is stellar and still not done developing. Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia are great at the plate, and if Papi returns to form?
Double yikes.
If they all stay healthy and the pitchers stay on their form, there’s no reason this team can’t win the division.

Now to explain the asterisk on the Rays.
Like I said, the Rays are the Dark Horse. Evan Longoria is a beast, and they have a few young guys like B.J. Upton who are due for a breakout year. A few good trades and young talent means this Rays team is a lot like the one that went to the World Series in 2008.
I just get a feeling about this team. But here’s a caveat. I think the Rays will get off to a big start, but if they start to falter around the All-Star break, I’m going to put them out of the playoffs. I just think that if they get too far behind or see themselves slipping, they might fold under the pressure. So that’s why I put the Rays as the Wild card*.

So on to Steinbrenner and his evil Minions.
Let’s start with the pitching staff. C.C. Sabathia is a beast. There’s no denying that, but after him gets a little…iffy. A.J. Burnett doesn’t like throwing to Jorge Posada, but Jose Molina is gone, so he has no choice. Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez are good inning eaters, but Pettitte’s age makes him a question mark.
And yes, Mark Teixeira, Jeter, A-Rod, they can all hit, but the Yankees bench isn’t exactly deep this year. The losses of Judas (I mean Johnny) Damon and Matsui hurts them in terms of power. The Yankees look good this year, but repeating is very difficult, and in a division this tough? Eh.
I have them (maybe) not making the playoffs. But that’s dependent on the Rays.
My prediction for the Yanks is third/Wild card. They played like a team on a mission last year and I just don’t get that feeling from them now.

As for the other teams in the AL East…
The Orioles really did a lot this year, and while they probably won’t make the playoffs, they will make life hard on everyone else in the East. They have a young staff that in a few years could really give the rest of the AL East headaches, and we could see flashes of that this season. My prediction, they finish in fourth place.

The Blue Jays…they won’t do much this year. They couldn’t make it to the playoffs when they had the one-two punch of Halladay and Burnett. They’ve got some good players, but it’s not enough to compete in a division that has the Yankees and Red Sox.

We’ll start to see things heat up in this division around the All-Star break, that’s when the good teams will separate from the bad and the ugly. Then we’ll know if we have a Red Sox-Yankees duet or a Red Sox-Rays-Yankees Ménage À Trois.

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