03
Apr
09

This Year In Baseball – AL EAST


We’ll start off with the American League East, home to the best three teams in all of baseball, (sorry South Korea) and the likely winner of the American League Pennant. Join us after the jump for the full divisional roundup.

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Boston Red Sox – Predicted record (97 – 65)

You can never have too much pitching, but right now the Red Sox look STACKED with pitching depth. The team enters the season with the deepest bullpen on paper they’ve had during the Theo Epstein era, and since that (and shortstops) are his greatest weakness, sparks a lot of confidence. Even if some of the bullpen arms don’t work out, Daniel Bard is down in AAA and other options like Michael Bowden exist too. The starting rotation is even deeper with Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden, and of course John Smoltz waiting in the wings. This is a pitching staff built to last deep in the game; Josh Beckett is much more likely to reproduce his near-Cy Young season of 2007 rather than the injury-riddled 2008, Jon Lester is going to take a big step forward in his development, Daisukue Matsuzaka will be frustrating but still better than nearly every other team’s third starter and the back of the rotation, Wakefield and Penny for now, will produce solid numbers, until they don’t, which returns us to the depth the team has assembled.

The biggest concern with this team is the status of David Ortiz. If Ortiz is back to the 35+ home run bashing Big Papi of old, this team will be nearly unstoppable, but if his bat has slowed too much or he is unable to get on a tear there might be some problems with the offense. That said, this lineup can go so deep that an annual 30 HR hitter in Jason Bay could hit as low as 6th! All expectations are that Mike Lowell’s hip injury won’t slow his bat down and he should be able to come close to the numbers he put up the last two seasons; even while hurt last year he still managed to hit 17 HRs and drive in 73 runs despite missing 49 games. With the reigning MVP in Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis holding down the infield defense, this is a team built as much on defending runs as scoring them. When JD Drew is healthy (or Rocco Baldelli is subbing) the team can run 3 above-average defenders at the outfield spots, plus a Gold Glover at every position in the infield except shortstop. Winners of 13 of their last 16 spring games, the Sox are hungry for action and ready to go. With their future captain spurring them on from second base, they won’t stop until they’re back in the post-season hoisting that trophy once more.

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Tampa Bay Rays – Predicted record (95-67)

Fresh off the best season in franchise history and their first World Series trip, the Tampa Bay Rays are young, eager and full of talent. The starters were remarkable last season, with everyone (besides Scott Kazmir) staying healthy all season and jumping ahead in their respective developments. James Shields and Matt Garza should continue right on where they left off, and later in the season, the Rays will have the ability to bring up a true ace-caliber pitcher in David Price. Even better, he’ll be rested and gnashing at the bit to be let loose on the American League, I wouldn’t want to be a hitter facing him. The bullpen is a concern, it’s not clear who is closing games for this team, is Troy Percival? Grant Balfour? Jason Isringhausen? Jeff Niemann? That question mark would be more concerning but for the fact that without a true closer for the last month and the playoffs, the Rays happened to do pretty well…

BJ Upton in 2007 hit 24 HRs and looked poised to begin his monster career last season; instead a shoulder injury limited him to a mere 9 long balls, although he did rack up 44 SBs. This year look for more of a 30-30 season from the lithe center fielder at the top of the order. Add in a full season from Evan Longoria, who could approach 38-42 HRs if he plays a full season, while playing Gold Glove caliber defense at the hot corner and you have a great foundation to build an offense upon. The speed and on-base element that Carl Crawford adds, along with Carlos Pena’s prodigious power should lead to runs coming in bunches. Pitchers aren’t going to want to face the Rays and will have nightmares of their young, speedsters dancing on the base-paths.

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New York Yankees – Predicted record (93 – 69)

Despite spending over $420 million in the off-season the Yankees will, for the second straight season, fall just short of the playoffs, likely leading to the firing of Joe Girardi. While CC Sabathia is going to be exactly what the Yankees expected, their other big-ticket free agent pitcher AJ Burnett is going to prove to be a huge bust. Much like his former Marlins counterpart Carl Pavano, the Yankees are going to seriously regret the Burnett signing when they are paying $16 million for another DL casualty. Then there is Joba, the next time he throws 150 IP in a season will be the first time he ever accomplishes that feat, and frankly, he might never reach that point. While the rest of the rotation is solid with Wang, Pettite, it is also unspectacular. However, with the dearth of pitching these days, the Yankees feature one of the strongest 1-5 staffs in baseball. Of course, that is contingent on Burnett staying healthy, something he has only done twice in his career, his two contract years, now signed to a long-term deal, that won’t happen again. Mariano Rivera seems to have an endless supply of bullets in his arm, and now has a set-up crew in front of him that features loads of power arms ready with the strikeout. Down on the farm Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, both unsuccessful in their first and second, go-arounds with the big league club are waiting in the wings for when Burnett makes his first DL trip in late May.

Signing Mark Texeira adds a huge offensive element to this team, except for one problem; Alex Rodriguez won’t be on the field until May at the earliest. In the meantime, Texiera, a notorious slow-starter will have to shoulder the load of carrying the offense himself, something he has never proven capable of, (see Braves, Atlanta; Angels, Los Angeles of Anaheim). Add in the pressure that comes from playing in the Bronx and while, at the end of the season his numbers will be commensurate with what he normally produces, Texeira will still be held as a part for why this team will miss the playoffs. With A-Rod, this is a prodigious offense, without, it’s strong but not epic. Jeter is a $18 million singles hitter, no one knows what Posada is capable of, Xavier Nady is an above-average hitter but nothing special and who knows which Robinson Cano will show up. However, Johnny Damon, playing in a contract year of his own looks ready to repeat his numbers from last season and may even end up as the team MVP when all is said and done. Then there is the defense, for a sinkballing non-strikeout pitcher like Wang, this spells disaster. Derek Jeter has about the same range at short as a grapefruit, Johnny Damon throws like a 5 year old blind girl, Cano’s glove might as well be a concrete block and Xavier Nady will never remind anyone of Dimaggio, or even Bobby Abreu. Throw in Posada, who can’t throw and this defense is in trouble, the only above average defender on the field will be Texeira who will be kept busy trying to save errors being thrown his way from everyone on the diamond. All the runs scored by the offense can’t help you if you still allow the other team loads of extra outs and baserunners. Run prevention wins games, this team, by Brian Cashman’s own admission is not built with good defense, and that will be the downfall of the 2009 Yankees.

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Toronto Blue Jays – Predicted record (80 – 82)

How frustrating it must be to be Roy Halladay; sure the Blue Jays starters last season were the best in baseball, but did anyone notice? Pitching probably his best season ever, even better than his Cy Young season, Halladay was still passed over by the BBWAA who appreciated Cliff Lee’s gaudier win total instead, so it goes. Just a few years after the Blue Jays ownership said they were going to increase spending, they lose the team’s second best starter, and the guy they thought would be their franchise player, Vernon Wells, hasn’t proved to be anything more than a solid, possibly declining injury-risk. Now, Halladay is the only good member of that sterling pitching staff to return at the beginning of the season. Young guns Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan likely won’t contribute at all this season, forcing the Jays to toss youngsters like Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero into the rotation. This probably won’t end well. Meanwhile, their big money closer BJ Ryan has arm troubles even before the season begins, and while the same situation happened last year, that it is reoccurring is troubling and cause for concern.

Who scares you in the Blue Jays lineup? Vernon Wells is a 20 HR guy at this point, at most, Alex Rios has speed and batting practice homers but not in the real games, Adam Lind and Travis Snider are young hot outfielders but neither is likely to go much above 20 HRs as well. So, you have a lineup that features a series of 20 HR hitters at most, combined with regression candidates like Scott Rolen and this offense is going to have a lot of tough days ahead. Sure, they are missing a big bopper, but teams can win in other ways too right? Well, not this team, they lack the speed to play an aggressive Angels-style of baseball and they are built right now for the 3-run home run but lack the players to actually hit them. Fortunately, no one in Canada cares anyways so at least the fan base won’t be tortured.

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Baltimore Orioles – Predicted record (74 – 88)

Remember the 90s when the Orioles were the model franchise, they’d just moved into the best stadium in baseball, were selling out game after game, going to the playoffs riding the talents of Mike Mussina and Cal Ripken, Albert Belle and others. Now look at them; not relevant since Jeffrey Maier gave Jeter his gift home run, O’s fans are in for a long, bleak season. Hope is on the horizon, but it isn’t coming soon enough. Jeremy Guthrie heads a completely uninspired rotation, followed by Koji Uehera, a newcomer to MLB and pure flotsam after them. While Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta are coming, they aren’t here yet, and this team will see lots of games getting out of hand before they can even get to the bullpen. The back-end of the bullpen, with Chris Ray and George Sherrill is strong, but getting to them with the lead still in hand is going to be an extremely difficult task for this cast of retreads, refuse and detritus. ‘

As miserable as the pitching staff is, this offense has a number of bright spots. Nick Markakis is one of the young stars of the game and Adam Jones may be ready to join him this season as well. Veterans Brian Roberts and Melvin Mora just keep producing and then, of course, there is Matt Wieters. Adored by Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA rankings, Wieters should arrive in June and start mashing immediately. Of course, by that time, the O’s will likely be 15 games out, so it won’t make too much difference. It’s been 13 years since the Orioles last made the playoffs and they likely won’t be close for at least 2-3 more years at the earliest.


3 Responses to “This Year In Baseball – AL EAST”


  1. 1 garnold
    April 3, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I actually have the Orioles besting the Jays by 5 games this season. Also, your homerism shines like a beacon in the darkness that is pre-season baseball.

    If the Sox win it all, I will jump into Lake Michigan in January.

  2. April 3, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    While I don’t doubt or deny that I’m a Sox homer, I did make this pick as objectively as possible. The Sox really are that good, the offense is going to be really successful and just watch, Beckett is BACK and better than ever. Count the steps-forward from Lester and if the Dice-K from the WBC shows up and the league is in T-R-O-U-B-L-E

    also, im holding you to that bet

  3. 3 youppi
    April 5, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    slanch, your love for the red sox clearly took over the AL east preview… your expectations for lowell and jd drew are a little high, plus lowrie is unproven, and I’m predicint Saito + AL East lineups + arm troubles = blown holds.

    Also, all the rays pitchers are coming off a year where many of them probably pitched career highs. I doubt they’ll be able to produce better seasons than last year’s magical run.

    I’m by no means a yankee fan, but I think CC and Tex’s impact will be huge for the yanks. Add in the new ballpark, AND when A-Rod returns (so he won’t play until may! what about june, july, august, september…) and I think they’ll at least make the playoffs. whether they win the divisoin or the wild card has yet to be seen. (also; tex has had a great spring, and his early season slow starts could be behind him. oh, and nady’s OF defense is waaaay better than abreu).


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