Thursday, March 24, 2011

MLB 2011 Preview: AL East

We are just one week from opening day of the 2011 Major League Baseball season. March Madness is awesome and living in Michigan for 4 years has made me fall in love with college football and hockey (and the Stanley Cup champ Blackhawks), but there is nothing like baseball.  It is by far my favorite sport to play, to watch, and to talk about.    Over the next week, I will break down each league, division by division, and then give my playoff picks and World Series. I'll start with the lesser, more pathetic, DH-embracing American League.


New Boston left fielder and speedster Carl Crawford
In my opinion, this is the best division in the MLB.  The Boston Red Sox were devastated by injury and underperforming stars last year and missed the playoffs.  So to combat that, they went out and got the top hitting free agent in Carl Crawford, then used their incredibly deep farm system to trade for Adrian Gonzalez (the system is still very deep, rated in the top 10).  Their new acquisitions, paired with the return of Jacoby Ellsbury from injury, give the Sox a potent lineup.  They have one of the best second basemen in the league, Dustin Pedroia, a consistent hitter in 3B Kevin Youkilis, and the home run threat of David Ortiz.  The rotation is also the one best in the AL.  Ace Jon Lester has become one of the league's best, while Josh Beckett and John Lackey should return to form.  Clay Buchholz will probably have a slight dropoff and Daisuke Matsuzaka is very inconsistent, but that will get cleaned up by the bullpen of Jonathon Papelbon, Daniel Bard, and newcomer Bobby Jenks. The Bo Sox are the class of the AL East, a World Series front runner, and have a phenomenal chance over winning over 100 games.

The New York Yankees, to the delight of many, had arguably their worst offseason in recent memory.  They missed out on Cliff Lee, who they went after hard, Carl Crawford, and pretty much every free agent of note.  Their consolation was overpaying for Rafael Soriano, a top relief pitcher who won't be closing and who GM Brian Cashman didn't even want, but a needy fanbase demanded.  The Yanks do return a great lineup.  Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano are a formidable middle of the lineup.  You can never count out Derek Jeter and LF  Brett Gardner could have a great season if he is moved to the leadoff spot.  The bullpen will be solid, with Soriano setting up the master of closers, Mariano Rivera.  However, the Yankees true downfall will be their starting pitching, despite an ace in C.C. Sabathia.  They so expected to get Lee that they neglected to look at the rest of the rotation, which also lost Andy Pettitte to retirement.  Instead they bank on starters and will succeed only if they can show their full potential.  Phil Hughes had a solid season, but will need to take a large step forward to be the #2 starter New York needs.  A.J. Burnett was miserable last season and was left off the playoff roster.  Ivan Nova could be a pleasant surprise; however, he is very unproven and has yet to pitch a full season in the pressure of Yankees pinstripes.  The Yanks have a good chance of making the playoffs on their lineup alone, but as we see every year, it is pitching  that wins in the postseason and the Yankees will fall short.

The Tampa Bay Rays are such a fun and likeable team, taking down the bigger clubs with a small payroll and incredible young talent.  However, their small window closed at the end of last year when they were defeated in the ALDS and lost quite a bit of talent to free agency.  It's situations like this that makes me hate what the structure of the MLB has become.  Even if you do it the right way and develop all of your own talent, you only have a year or two until that talent is taken away by big market teams.  The Rays lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza (though that was a trade), and their entire bullpen.  They did take the time to restock their farm system, which is now #2 in the league.  They still have a talented and young rotation with David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis, and newcomer Jeremy Hellickson, who is primed to have a breakout year.  Reed Brignac and Sean Rodriquez are up and comers up the middle, and Evan Longoria is arguably the league's best 3rd baseman.  The Rays just lost too much talent to be able to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees.  Give it another 2 years and the Rays will be right back in the AL playoff picture.

The Toronto Blue Jays are in one of the most unfortunate positions in the MLB.  No matter what they do, no matter how hot they start, they are in a division with incredible talent and big spenders.  There have been some Jays players that have had great seasons and teams with good talent, but they can't ever get over that hump.  They just continue to be that team that exists to spoil the playoff chances for one of their divisional rivals.   Toronto fields one of the least known rosters in the league, though that probably has something to do with playing in Canada.  Over the past 2 offseasons, they traded away their most recognizable players in Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells.  Jose Bautista had a huge year in 2010, but he will be hard pressed to repeat as the MLB leader in home runs.  While they have some good players, like Adam Lind and Travis Snider, they don't really have anyone who can carry the team.  The pitchers, again while good, are just not good enough to compete with the other rotations and lineups in the AL.  An interesting name is starting pitcher Kyle Drabek, the centerpiece of the deal that sent Hallady to Philadelphia.  He will get all the chances he needs to become a top line starter for the Jays.  Look for them to steal away a fews wins and ruin the playoff hopes of either the BoSox or the Yankees, but 3rd place is probably the highest they can realistically hope to finish.

Catcher Matt Wieters must take a step forward
and show why he was a first round pick

The Baltimore Orioles have stuck in a familiar place from season to season - the bottom of the AL East. Camden Yards seems to be where young players get their shot and over the hill vets come to die. They have exciting young hitters in Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Nick Markakis, along with oldies Derek Lee and Vladamir Guerrero. Mark Reynolds was a nice addition from a power standpoint and Brian Roberts should return strong from an injury-filled 2010. The O's issues, as they have for the past decade, stem from their starting rotation. The good news is the same as the bad news - the staff is very young. Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz all show a lot of promise, but as most young pitchers, they are inconsistent. They have the right man as manager, Buck Showalter. He has a good track record of turning teams around, which was definitely seen when he came on in the middle of 2010. Like the Blue Jays, Baltimore is just in the wrong division to quickly right the ship.  The Orioles are a team going in the right direction, but the 2011 season will once again be filled with growing pains.

As I said, this is the best division in baseball and it will be quite to battle to come out on top.  In the end, Boston just has the best all around team.  They have a lineup that can match up with the power of the Yankees, but they pair it with a quality pitching staff that will keep them at the top all year long.  My pick for AL East Division champs: The Boston Red Sox.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice kevin. I agree with everything except for you calling the AL the "lesser, more pathetic, DH-embracing American League". I believe you meant to say "the more talented and exciting American League" haha