To begin the 2010 Major League Baseball previews on Sports Then and Now let’s look at the American League East. The most dominant league in baseball over the last decade, the AL east has put a team in last three World Series and seven out of the last ten. It doesn’t get anymore impressive than that.
Who Will Win the AL East in 2010?
- Baltimore Orioles (52%, 11 Votes)
- Boston Red Sox (24%, 5 Votes)
- New York Yankees (10%, 2 Votes)
- Tampa Bay Rays (10%, 2 Votes)
- Toronto Blue Jays (4%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 21
1. New York Yankees
While most talking heads no longer rank the Yankees pitching staff as the best of the division, they are still pretty darn impressive, at least at the top of the rotation. CC Sabathia promises to have an even better year than last now that he’s had a full year to get used to his new surroundings. Being that last year was not too shabby (19-8 records, 3.37 ERA, 4th in AL Cy Young votes), Sabathia looks to be a real terror on the mound for New York. Even though A.J. Burnett was a bit shakier than Sabathia, he still managed to win 13 games. He, too, will see improvement this season.
With the top two in excellent shape, a big question mark hangs over Andy Pettitte. While this is a guy who has been the meter stick of consistency (Pettitte has won between 14 and 18 games in 9 of his fifteen seasons, which leaves out a 19 win and two 21 win seasons) he will turn 38 during this upcoming season. The Yankees gave him a one year deal because they have come concerns about his durability (read: no more “healing” aides).
The real mysteries are the four and five spots in the Yankee rotation. Javier Vasquez is a big deal gain for New York as he offers a very, very solid middle of the rotation guy. The club seems intent on leaving Chamberlain as a starter despite overwhelming evidence that he should be a reliever, but now that Vasquez is in town, perhaps logic will prevail and put Phil Hughes in that fifth spot. If that’s done, the Yankees will win 100 games again this year.
The line-up in the Bronx requires less wordy explanation: They are awesome. Given the fact that Teixiera really came alive when Alex Rodriguez showed up last year, and the fact that both look to be ready for opening day, the astounding offense should pick up where it left off. Johnny Damon is a loss, but probably not one that Brian Cashman will regret because of the acquisition of Curtis Granderson.
Barring injuries or other natural disasters, the Yankees promise to e a juggernaut in 2010.
2. Boston Red Sox
While the Orioles are hoping for some serious improvement this season, there seems little argument that Boston and New York are still far ahead of the AL East curve. Theo Epstein has stepped outside the Beantown box a bit by emphasizing defense with acquisitions of Adrian Beltre (from Seattle), Marco Scutaro (Toronto) and Mike Cameron (Milwaukee). They have moved Jacoby Ellsbury to left which might mean transition time to get used to the Green Monster, but with these moves and the fact the Youkilis should be able to stay at first for most of the year and the fact that third and short-stop will not be defensive hemorrhaging points, the over all prognosis is major defensive improvement.
Dave Magadan, Red Sox hitting coach, took issue with the doom-sayers view of Boston’s offense. In a recent article on MLB.com, Magadan had this to say:
“We’ve got a nice balance throughout the lineup. We’ve got guys hitting at the bottom of the lineup who are going to help turn the lineup around and get on for the guys who are hitting at the top of the lineup. We’ve got a little more depth on the bench. I like what I’m seeing.”
Much of this optimism must hinge on David Ortiz. He now has a viable option for protection in the line-up (Victor Martinez) on a regular basis. He ended on a strong note last season, finishing with 28 home runs. When you consider that his first did not come until May 20th, a normal start to the season with similar production would have left him in the 36 jack range. While that level would still not be “Big Papi” type numbers, 36 big flies from their DH would make Magadan and the Sox happy.
Of course the short order evaluation point for Boston is pitching. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Clay Buchholz makes for the most consistently formidable rotation in all of baseball. Add in the fact that they have a viable sixth starter in Tim Wakefield, a lights out closer in Papelbon and some serious gas for in between (Bard), one begins to wonder if the Red Sox will need to score many runs at all.
Well, of course they do. And they won’t be able to match to overall production of the Yankees. They’ll be second in the AL East, but no other second place AL team is going to be able to wrestle the wild-card from the Red Sox.
3. Baltimore Orioles
The common logic seems to be to place the Rays in third, but this is where we acquiesce to the positive vibes emanating from the Inner Harbor area.
Youth is the order of the day in Baltimore, especially in the one and two positions. Two young guns in Brian Matuz and Chris Tillman will be in the rotation and throwing to Matt Wieters, the O’s catching phenom. They have added Kevin Milwood (13 wins and a 3.14 ERA for Texas in ’09) to lead the rotation and Mike Gonzalez (90 strike outs, 33 walks, 74.1 inning for Atlanta in ’09) to be their closer. Miguel Tejada is also back to cover the hot corner.
Their improved pitching will not help their anemic offense enough to really contend. Tejada has seen his better days at the plate. Brian Roberts, while a valuable presence at second base, and who is a good bat for that position, is not enough to carry the others. Wieters could prove to be a huge asset on offense, but his playing time might be less than constant because of his recent arrival and tough defensive requirements.
The Oriole’s may be on the cusp of really mattering, but this year they should be good enough to stay out of the basement.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
One of the most common catch phrases in the off season and spring training is when players who are about to become free agents tell the press, “I don’t want to negotiate during the season.” There are a number of reasons this mantra is so popular. Some want to be free agents. Some are hoping for an early extension. Most know that the common rule is that those types of talks distract from the real business of baseball.
Welcome to the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays.
At the end of 2010, both Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford will be free agents unless the Rays work something out. Logic and accounting principles indicate that there is no way both stay. In fact, its entirely likely that both will be gone – if not by the July 31′st trade deadline then after the season. Couple this with the already sparse interest in seeing live games that Ray’s fans seem to have and you’re looking as a record low year for Tropicana seat filling.
The buzz word for all of this is distraction. Distraction to the point that the Rays, who are not nearly the Rays of ’08, will not be able to overcome.
The early long term signing of Even Longoria seems even better to the Rays now than at the time. Longoria is predicted to lead the team in pretty much every category of offense this year. If Pena and Crawford go, Longoria will be the lone threat in their line-up.
Several significant exits will make an impact this season in Tampa Bay. Anakinor Iwamura is gone from second base. They traded away Edwin Jackson and Scott Kazmir last season. Their DH is still slated to be Pat Burrell who went from premier bat in Philly to a .221 average and only 14 home runs in ’09. Dioner Navarro, the backstop who added some offenseive wallop in 2008 also experienced a major drop off in ’09 (.218 average, 8 homers, .261 OBP).
Som much of this teams final outcome hinges on “what ifs” that it is hard to gauge. But if they jettison two stars and everyone else performs at ’09 levels, the Rays will be fighting it out for last with the…
5. Toronto Blue Jays
J.P. Richardi was fired with two games left in the Blue Jays’ abysmal 2009 season and replaced with Alex Anthropoulos. While Richardi deserves blame for not trading Roy Halliday far, well, anything of remote value last July, Anthropoulos shares some of the responsibility for trading Halliday in the off season for, well, not much. When you have the best pitcher in baseball and you can’t do better than Phillippe Aurmont and Travis d’Arnaud, you know things are bleak.
Most fans of even the AL East wouldn’t recognize the name of a Toronto starting pitcher this year without a media guide. The exception to that might be Shaun Markum, who they remember from the hot 2008 start and then his eventual dissapearance later that season (and the ’09 season) caused by a need for Tommy John surgery.
Their biggest threat at the plate will be Vernon Wells (16 home runs, .260 average in ’09). Alex Rios was picked up by the White Sox after Richardi placed him on Waivers last summer. Toronto also traded Scott Rolen away to the Reds. Neither was having a stellar year in ’09, but sometimes what you value needs to be based on what you have left.
The Blue Jays, as the cliché goes, are rebuilding.