In keeping with little cool poll-gizmo we added to the side of this blog, andaplayertobenamedlater.blogspot.com is going to preview major league baseball. Today starts a 6 part look at each division of major league baseball. First we'll start with the American League. And since we have a total east coast bias going on around here, we're gonna start with the AL East.
Boston Red Sox:
No, I'm not stupid enough to pick the Yankees, who have three kids playing major roles on their pitching staff. And let's face it: The Sox are well made. And things might only get better. Ortiz should be healthy this year and Manny is not going to have a down year like he did last year. And the rich get luckier. J.D. is looking to build on a good second half last year, Ellsbury and Pedroia should feel more comfortable after great rookie seasons and Matsuzaka should be more comfortable picking one of his wide variety of pitches the second time around the AL.
But it's not all sunshine and roses. The Red Sox were relatively injury-free last season (the top 5 starters missed only 22 games last season). They can't count on that again. And if someone vital, say, Varitek goes down for a while, there could be significant problems. Over half their lineup is 32 and over. Can Lowell have the season of a lifetime again this year?
On paper, the Bosox are the most balanced, ready-to-win team right now. They have a good mix of youth and veterans. They have a dominant closer, good fielding and a big-game must-win pitcher. They might not go all the way...but they should go far into October.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Jonathon Papelbon is the first Red Sox pitcher with at least 28 saves in consecutive seasons.
New York Yankees:
The general consensus is that the Yankees are nothing this year. Washed up, an afterthought, ready to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
Not so fast.
The Yanks scored 968 runs last season, the most by the club since 1937, so you know that their unpredictable rotation is going to get the help it needs. And their middle relief, while not ironclad dominant, is certainly taking the more is better belief. New manager Girardi's biggest question leaving camp is who, out of the 45 guys he haa, is he taking up to New York as a middle reliever.
While Joba got most of the headlines, Hughes is the one to watch out of the rookies. A nice delivery, a tight curveball, and a sneaky-fast Ted Lilly-type fastball make him a good bet for a solid starter.
And more rookies on the way soon—Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata are two kids who are almost, but not quite ready to roam Death Valley. (And not a moment too soon—Hideki is an old 33, Jason Zombie is a positively ancient 37 and Jeter's turning 34 in June), the Yankees are poised to make another run into the playoffs.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Jorge Posada, who got paid this offseason, was the first Yankees catcher to finish in the top 10 in the league in batting since the Captain, Thurman Munson in 1978.
Toronto Blue Jays:
This offseason, I kept saying if Toronto could stay healthy, they can sneak up on one of the two AL East Big Boys.
Already, B.J. Ryan, Casey Janssen, Scott Rolen, Greg Zaun and A.J. Burnett have either been put on the D.L. or haven't worked out in spring training due to injuries. And that's a shame, cause this team can compete. A really good young staff, that ranked 2nd in the A.L. in E.R.A. and in opposing batting averages, complete with a stud in Roy Halladay, can definitely toss a few past people. And Jeremy Accardo and B.J. Ryan form one of the best 8-9th inning tandem around. When they are healthy.
And the same goes for the field. Is Vernon Wells healthy? Greg Zaun? Scott Rolen. Frank Thomas? Lyle Overbay? If they all are, the city of Toronto has something to cheer about, as those guys, along with Alex Rios—43 doubles last year—can drive the ball. (And Alex Rios, along with Placido Polanco, might be the most underrated player in the AL.)If not...gonna be a long season.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Greg Zaun threw out a pathetic 13 of 73 of base stealers last season. That's 17.8% for you English majors.
Tamps Bay Rays
Not the Devil Rays anymore. Just the Rays. And who could blame them. If you had their history, wouldn't you want to disassociate yourself from your past as well?
But that could actually be changing this year. A solid front three in their rotation—Ace Scott Kazmir, improving Jamie Shields and a new solid pitcher from the Twins, Matt Garza— (those front three are arguably better than the Yankees first three), a up-and-coming young ball club—with Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, and a couple of key veterans (Cliff Floyd, Troy Percival) to show the kids how to do it right—all signs that The Rays might scratch the .500 mark.
Here's a stat. Whenever Kazmir or Shields pitched last year, the Rays were 35-30. Whenever anyone started, 31-66. Still think trading second place AL rookie of the year Delmon Young for Matt Garza and his 3.69 E.R.A was a dumb idea? And besides, offense wasn't the problem for the Rays last year. They had a .433 slugging percentage (4th in the AL) and were 3rd in HRs and stolen bases. It was pitching. They were dead last in the AL in ERA, wins, saves and opp. BA. And with 2007 1st round pick, David Price considered not far away from helping the big club, the Rays might not be the punching bag of the AL much longer.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Shields was the youngest starter in 40 years to record five times as many strikeouts as walks.
And here's someone who can replace the Rays as punching bags of the AL!!!
Let's be honest. The kiddie Orioles—Adam Jones, Radhames Liz, Garret Olsen—are just trying to get experience, while the vets—Melvin Mora, Brian Roberts, Jay Payton—just want to get traded. Anywhere, it doesn't matter.
This team is in fire sale mode. Which is great, except it's about 3 (or 8) seasons two late. There's not much to dissect here. Just hang on. Cause it's gonna get ugly before it starts getting pretty.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Baltimore pitchers walked the most batters in the majors last year.
Tomorrow: The Al Central