Thursday, March 10, 2011

AL East Preview

2010 Standings
Tampa Bay 96-66 (.593)
New York 95-67 (.586)
Boston 89-73 (.549)
Toronto 85-77 (.525)
Baltimore 66-96 (.407)

Season Recap
The Rays started hot and held on to win what is regarded as the premier division in baseball. Though a few players underachieved for them in 2010 (Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett), they were surprisingly solid, especially their pitching staff. The Yankees made a nice run late in the season to track down the Rays, but ultimately came one game short. CC Sabathia got off to a slow start, Mark Texiera never got truly hot and everyone is still wondering what the heck happened to AJ Burnet. Not to fret, however, as the Yankees still pulled the American League Wild Card. Boston suffered a series of injuries to key players, notably Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Josh Becket and others. It was a down year in Beantown to say the least, as they were never really in the thick of the divisional race. Toronto was much improved, thanks to some good starting pitching, Jose Bautista's breakout and Vernon Wells becoming relevant again. Once again, they seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, playing with a limited budget in a division of big spenders. Baltimore was, well, Baltimore. They never really got it going all year and most of the young players they were counting on (Brian Matusz, Matt Weiters) didn't seem to get it figured out in 2010.

Big News for 2011

There was some major movement within the division in the offseason. The biggest deals were clearly made by the Red Sox. They signed free agent outfielder Carl Crawford away from the Rays and traded for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez who was with the Padres. These additions make the Red Sox the hands-down winner of the offseason in the division. The Yankees biggest addition was relief pitcher Rafael Soriano, who will likely set up Mariano Rivera. The Jays have revamped their bullpen, a department that hurt them a little bit last season. The Orioles made some surprising moves, inking Vladamir Gurrero to DH for them, Derek Lee to play first base and also bringing aboard the high-strikeout, homerun hitting third baseman Mark Reynolds. Tampa Bay has added some veteran pieces to make up for other departures. Manny Ramirez and Jhonny Damon will try to pick up the slack for the Rays who will once again count on their pitching in a division full of sluggers.

Up and Comers
This is a division that has the money to spend on top-notch free agents and doesn't develop as much homegrown talent as others across baseball. Perhaps one of the most interesting prospects that could see is time is former first rounder Desmond Jennings with the Rays. He could start the season in AAA, but will likely get some time in the Rays outfield. The Orioles will continue to develop young pitcher like Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergesen in addition to trying to get something out of Matt Weiters. The Yankees will run Ivan Nova out in their rotation, likely in the four-spot, and he was impressive at times in 2010. J.P. Arencibia will get the starting catching job for the Blue Jays and he will be catching a bunch of young starters, including Kyle Drabek, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and Brandon Morrow.

Injury Notes
The division is relatively healthy heading into the season. Josh Becket suffered a mild concussion but is already pitching again while Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury appear totally healthy for the Red Sox. The Yankees appear to be in good shape as do the Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays.

Prediction Time!
This will be a competitive division again in 2011. The Red Sox should be much better, especially if they can stay healthy and get a bounce-back season from Becket. The Yankees will be loaded as always while the Jays and Rays are capable teams. I see this boiling down to a two team race between the Yankees and Red Sox. I think the Rays and Jays will be on the outside looking in while the Orioles will still be in the cellar simply because their pitching is so undeveloped.

Predicted 2011 Standings
1. Boston
2. New York
3. Tampa Bay
4. Toronto
5. Baltimore

Boston is going to be way better than a year ago and they will go as their starting pitching goes. The Yankees will be right there the entire way and choosing between the two is like splitting hairs at this point, it could go either way. Toronto should be better again in 2011 as they develop their young starters who showed flashes of brilliance last year. Tampa Bay has lost too much in the offseason to continue to contend with teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, yet they are still good enough to steal games from anybody. They should be slightly better than the Blue Jays, though not by much. Baltimore is still in re-development mode. Their a long ways away from being a true contender but they should be putting runs on the board in 2011, it just depends on how they pitch.

Next Up: NL Central

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