Sunday, March 25, 2012

AL East Report Card

Time to switch over to the other half of baseball. You know, the older, slower, hit-the-ball-over-the-fence-or-bust half. Known as the American League, my grades will start from the east coast and move to the Pacific once again. That means I get to start with the AL East which, even if you hate the whole Yankees-Sox thing, is a very entertaining division. Lots of marquee players, lots of former marquee players and even some up-and-comers. Here we go!

Baltimore Orioles
Lineup: B-
Rotation: D
Bullpen: C
Notes: The lineup isn’t all that bad. JJ Hardy is a slugger, Markakis is a balanced hitter, Adam Jones is a terrific athlete who has continuously improved and Matt Wieters is really coming around. The rest of the hitters are functional and the O’s will definitely score some runs. The wheels will fall off on the mound, however. Japanese lefty Wei-Yin Chen is the “ace,” while Jason Hammel, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Tsuyoshi Wada round things out. Matusz and Arrieta are former top prospects that haven’t panned out. Jim Johnson takes over as the closer. Lindstrom, Gregg and Luis Ayala are all functional, but not outstanding by any means.

Boston Red Sox
Lineup: A
Rotation: B+
Bullpen: C+
Notes: The lineup is as potent as any. Ellsbury is coming off a career year, Pedroia is incredible, Adrian Gonzalez is a stud, Youkillis is aging but still very good. The same could be said for Big Papi, resulting in a solid group of hitters that can carry the team. Lester, Beckett and Buchholz can be fantastic, but they have to stay healthy. This has been the Sox’ achilles heel in recent history. Daniel Bard is transitioning from the setup role to the rotation, which is a smart move on Boston’s part. Andrew Bailey is the new closer and he needs to prove he can make it through an entire season. Mark Melancon, Alfredo Aceves , Michael Bowden and Franklin Morales make up the rest of the pen.

New York Yankees
Lineup: A-
Rotation: A-
Bullpen: B-
Notes: Obviously, the offense mashes. I’m skeptical, however, of some players’ ability to stay healthy. Jeter, A-Rod, Swisher and Ibanez need to prove they can stay healthy in order to help Granderson, Cano and Teixeia. Sabathia anchors the rotation once again. Recent additions Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda will be critical pieces of the puzzle as the team’s success hinges on their transition to the Big Apple. Mariano Rivera is back once more, while David Robinson is a stud, too. The rest of the bullpen is pretty good, with Soriano looking to rebound and a functional lefty in Boone Logan.

Tampa Bay Rays
Lineup: B+
Rotation: A-
Bullpen: B-
Notes: The Rays will score a lot of runs, just like their counterparts in Boston and New York. Jennings and Upton will bat 1-2. Longoria is one of the best in the game at any position. Pena returns and Zobrist is one of the most valuable players in baseball, in my opinion. Shields, Price, Hellickson, Moore and Niemann are a very strong, deep rotation. They’re just as good as the Yankees and potentially a tad better. The bullpen is a little shallow, but not too bad. Veteran Kyle Farnsworth will get the save opportunities while Peralta and McGee will set him up. Fernando Rodney, Wade Davis and JP Howell are all veterans that can get quality outs.

Toronto Blue Jays
Lineup: B
Rotation: B-
Bullpen: B-
Notes: Another offensive team, the Jays are clearly led by Jose Bautista. While he’s simply incredible, Escobar, Lind, Rasmus and Lawrie will need to be solid if the Toronto is to say around in this race. Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow give the team a nice 1-2 punch. Behind them, the Jays are solid but not outstanding. Cecil, Alvarez and McGowan are all capable starters but are unfortunately going to face the Sox and Yankees often. This will result in them being simply overmatched more often than not. Sergio Santos, was acquired from Chicago, is a strikeout machine but needs to cut down on the walks. Francisco Cordero was a free agent signing and he’ll setup Santos. Veterans Casey Janssen, Darn Oliver and Jason Frasor will fill out the bullpen, one that looks pretty solid.

1. Tampa Bay Rays
2. Boston Red Sox
3. New York Yankees
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles

The balance of the Rays, mixed with their youthful ability to stay healthy and the wizardry of Joe Maddon will win this division. While all the hype is in Boston and New York, Tampa Bay is the most balanced group and they have the best manager in the big leagues. Now, don’t get me wrong, both Boston and New York are fully capable of winning this division, I’m just going with the Rays. The Red Sox need to get healthy, full bounce-back years from Youkillis, Pedroia, Buchholz, Beckett and Lester. I’m worried about Andrew Bailey’s ability to stay healthy for a full season as well, plus their bullpen isn’t all that impressive. New York will depend on Pineda and Kuroda’s ability to adjust from inconsequential games in Seattle and Los Angeles to the pressure-cooker that is New York and the AL East. The Yankees are old, too. Jeter is already dinged up (calf), A-Rod needs to stay healthy, Swisher is hurt and Ibanez’ bat is slowing down as he ages. Getting David Robertson (foot) back soon is important, too. Toronto is a quality club but they are stuck in an extremely tough division. The O’s are still trying to find their footing and won’t be a factor.

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