1. SWEET: This next season, the talent-rich Rays have a legitimate shot of not only winning the division title, but also getting back into the Big Series come November. With their strong pitching, cost-efficient hitting and fielding, and balance of steals, homeruns, and a high OBP (.343), this is the team to watch. Expect their top four pitchers (Shields, Garza, Niemann, and Price) to succeed in front of a strong defense. Their relief corp should draw from the same flexibility that spelled success in 2008 (even if Soriano isn’t a long-term answer). Their starting lineup hasn’t changed a bit, which spells stability for an all-around great roster. If only the Os could be more like the Rays…
2. SOLID: Hitting improvements coupled with the best talent money can buy means the Yanks will give the Rays a serious challenge. But, that said, money isn’t everything. Pettitte is growing older by the second, Vasquez has already failed in the AL once, Burnett is all over the place at times, and I just don’t know about Hughes. Though their pitching looks like it improved, I’m not sure I’m ready to give the Yanks the benefit of the doubt. The level of talent beneath these starters has shown promise (Alfredo Aceves and Joba), but there’s plenty left to be desired. The infield, on the other hand, may be the best bar none. The beauty of Jeter, Teixeira (I’m jealous), and A-Rod playing at their peak is unmatched. Throw in come-back kid Cano, age-doesn’t matter Posada, and two solid acquisitions in Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson, and there’s oodles of potential. Though injuries could slow them down (as they could any team), watch out.
3. SPOILED: The truth about the confines of cash will hit the Sox particularly hard, as their aging talent and win-at-all costs spending won’t get them far enough. Though there’s some brilliance in their lineup (Ellsbury, Pedroia, and Youkilis offer plenty of bang for their buck), there’s also a lot of wasted space. I just can’t respect the aging wonders like Ortiz, J.D. Drew, and Beltre, who seem to get more mediocre as their careers get artificially extended by past success. Mike Cameron, though old, will probably be a good addition, as will John Lackey. Their pitching will be solid (with the exception of Dice-K), but I’m not sure it will be enough to pass the Yanks or Rays. There’s a lot of promise (and the team clearly wants to win it all now), but I don’t think it will be enough. PS: Victor Martinez can hit, but he really can’t catch. My advice for fantasy owners is to avoid Boston pitchers when he’s behind the plate.
4. SOUR: The Orioles have a young team with plenty of talent (well, at least in the outfield they do…), but some iffy acquisitions and a brutal schedule will keep them grounded. It must be bitter to be in the bottom half of the AL-east, seemingly trapped in the mediocre 3/4/5 spots of the division. Though I’ll leave most of the Oriole commentating to Tim, I have doubts about their additions of Tejada, Atkins, and Millwood. There’s a lot of up-and-coming talent, but their pitching last season was close to the worst of all the major leagues. There’s also a host of problems with their infield, but I’ll leave that for future commentating. If they want to be the next Rays, they’ll need at least two more seasons for everything to fall into place.
5. SUCKS: Last and least, the Blue Jays will struggle to find a flight path under their weak defense and questionable pitching. Without Halladay, there isn’t much worth celebrating for the team. It’s nice to see Marcum back (he has a lot of talent), but don’t expect any pitcher on the team to post a sub-4.00 ERA with the Jay’s miserable outfield defense (Vernon Wells is old and Lind/Snider are slow, and that’s that). I like young guys like Lind and Hill on the roster, but I can’t help but feel their stats are wasted. This team is like the Orioles, but with worst hitting, worst defense, and even more age issues. Ouch.
Though it’s only a slight departure from last year, this season’s AL East offers more-of-the-same for Os fans. Here’s the recipe (and some arbitrary records) that I predict:
1. Tampa Bay Rays (Sweet) – 99 - 63
2. New York Yankees (Solid) – 97 - 65
3. Boston Red Sox (Spoiled) – 92 - 70
4. Baltimore Orioles (Sour) – 74 - 82
5. Toronto Blue Jays (Sucks) – 60 - 102