2011 MLB Preview: AL East
|1. Tampa Bay (96-66)
2. New York (95-67)
3. Boston (89-73)
4. Toronto (85-77)
5. Baltimore (66-96)
|1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees
3. Baltimore Orioles
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. Toronto Blue Jays
Boston Red Sox
The Sox added both first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and outfielder Carl Crawford during the offseason and became the darlings of baseball again. Injuries decimated the team a year ago. With Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury and Josh Beckett returning, Boston can talk World Series again. When healthy, the offense has few holes. Pitcher Clay Buchholz seems poised to become top pitcher and Jon Lester is a true No. 1 already.
Although the Red Sox are and should be a heavy favorite to win the AL East and make it back to another World Series, Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka present some injury issues that could drag Boston back to the pack a bit. Also, is Jonathan Papelbon on the way down, or will he use the lack of respect as motivation to regain greatness? Former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks is ready, willing and capable.
New York Yankees
With the retirement of Andy Pettitte, few players remain from the start of the team's modern-era dynasty. A postseason appearance is not a guarantee. The Yankees normally own the free-agent market, but not this year. CC Sabathia remains one of the game's best pitchers, but the front office did not adequately address the rest of the rotation. New York has the ability to hit its way out of trouble with the likes Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.
One key to the Yankees starting staff is the enigmatic A.J. Burnett. Despite a dismal 2010, he is only one year removed from having helped the Yankees win the World Series in 2009. Perhaps new pitching coach Larry Rothschild can lay his hands upon the electric arm of Burnett. Then there is Joba Chamberlain, who could become a multiple-innings Uber-set-up man.
The question shifted this offseason from "Can the Orioles reach .500?" to "Can the O's claim the Wild Card slot?" Andy MacPhail remade the team in stunning fashion during the offseason, acquiring designated hitter, first baseman Derrek Lee, shortstop J.J. Hardy and third baseman Mark Reynolds, starting pitcher Justin Duchscherer and reliever Kevin Gregg.
Spring Training unleashed an early testing period, with injuries to Brian Roberts, Derrek Lee, Koji Uehara and Duchscherer. But, for the first time in more than a decade, the Orioles look to have some depth to not take a major step backward if those injuries become problematic by Opening Day. Like most teams, the Orioles' success comes down to the arms, and if the momentum Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta and old man Jeremy Guthrie created can carry over, this team can be the AL's biggest surprise.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have had an astounding three-year run, which netted them an appearance in the 2008 World Series. And although there is some high-ceiling talent in the minors, you are now looking at a club that has lost Crawford, Jason Bartlett, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler and Matt Garza. Bartlett and Garza were traded, so they netted the club some young returnees. But the rest were all free agents, so it's doubtful there is any immediate return from all these losses.
True, the starting rotation gets Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson added in, but the bullpen and run production now become problematic. The Rays reached into their old bag of tricks in their losing days and plucked two once-weres in Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. Ramirez said all the right things, but when that first check comes in and it hits home how little he is making, Ramirez may go postal.
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto's philosophy of hitting home runs only, led by Jose Bautista, hasn't paid off in playoff appearances. Bautista hit 54 home runs last year and is scary at the plate, though. New manager John Ferrell needs to get his team more offensively consistent. Trading pitcher Shaun Marcum to the Brewers leaves an ace void Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow or Brett Cecil will fill. Key departures in the bullpen hurt as well.
The club allowed Lyle Overbay (20 home runs) and John Buck (20) to leave as free agents before trading Vernon Wells (31) to get the juice to acquire Frank Francisco from Texas in a trade. Factor in Bautista dropping from 54 home runs down to say, 40, and then add in the losses from the three aforementioned players and you have a team with 80-90 fewer home runs. Then there is that starting pitching -- the club traded Marcum (13-8) for young Brett Lawrie, who may not stick this season.
Issue 159: March 2011