Well, I’m back again, this time I’m running down the richest division in baseball, the AL East. Only a few more to go, but don’t worry, I’ll be done before the regular season starts, so you can put your fantasy worries to rest. Here they are.
1. Yankees – Come on, I’d be stupid not to pick the Pinstripes to win the division. Steinbrenner only spend about eleventy billion dollars on his team. Foolish I say. Although the Yanks will win the division, they won’t make it past the first round of the playoffs. Their pitching will improve this year, but not by much. It was a mistake to sign Andy Pettite, as he will falter. It might be early in the year, it might be late, but his arm will not hold up. Get ready to put him on the DL. Chien-Ming Wang will not have 19 wins either, hitters have figured him out, and he’ll be lucky to have 14 wins. However, if the Rocket decides to sign with George, that’s an immediate upgrade to the entire staff, pitching and morale wise. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better lineup from 1 to 9 in the AL than the Yanks. With Cro-Magnon man Johnny Damon leading off, followed by Jeter, Abreu, A-Rod, Giambi, and the likes, they will score runs. And, don’t forget about Robison Cano, many forget he was an All-Star last year. Yet, Posada is aging and well past his prime, and if A-Rod can’t handle the pressure of playing with the ever-more demanding fans of NY, there may be problems. The pen is still solid, with Mariano "One-Pitch" Rivera still being as good as ever, and backed up with a good core of pitchers, led by Kyle Farnsworth. It looks like everyone else in the East will be dust of the Yankees run-scoring. The only hope is that the pitching fails.
2. Blue Jays – How many people thought that at year’s end last year, the Blue Jays, NOT the Red Sox would be in 2nd place in the East? Not many. Yet, there is belief north of the border that the Birds can not only finish that high again, they can actually overtake 1st. I’m not holding my breath on that one. The pitching, if healthy, is very good. Roy Halliday has one CY in his trophy case, and A.J. Burnett is capable of winning one, but they both have to stay healthy first. The bullpen is led by underrated B.J. Ryan. The Jays signed him to a huge deal last year, and it proved worth it, with 38 saves and a miniscule 1.37 ERA. There’s a bunch of youngsters behind him, however. If they don’t work, there may be trouble. Toronto added a future HOF-er to their lineup in Frank Thomas. The Big Hurt had a monster comeback year last year in Oakland, and hopes to do the same in Toronto, but I don’t think he’ll put up quite as big numbers. Vernon Wells will have another MVP caliber year, but look out for former Brewer Lyle Overbay to have a humongous year. I’m talking huge, folks. If the Big O doesn’t produce, the Jays may fall in the standings.
Red Sox – Daisuke Matsuzaka. Two words. Worth over $100 million. Unbelievable. Theo Epstein is clearly on crack for spending that much on a pitcher who hasn’t pitched one inning of Major League baseball. The guy may have been huge in Japan, but American baseball is something altogether different. WBC be damned, Major League hitters are much better than anything Dice-K has ever faced. I’m going to laugh out loud when he goes 3-12 (those 3 wins will come on Ortiz walkoffs). Other than that, the Sox pitching is mediocre at best. Yes, I said it, mediocre. It will be a mistake to bring Papelbon in from the pen to the starting rotation, he’s going to blow his arm out, Tommy John surgery here he comes. Josh Beckett hasn’t been good since Florida, Schilling is okay, but over the hill, and Wakefield lives and dies by the knuckleball. The bullpen took a huge step downward when Papelbon went to the starting rotation. There’s a cluster of guys, both veteran and inexperienced, looking to fill roles. Who knows what will happen. The offense, once again, will be carried on the shoulders of David Ortiz, and, to a lesser extent, Manny Ramirez. They will both put up big numbers again. However, no one else has a stick worth anything in the lineup. Equally as puzzling as the Dice-K thing is the Sox signing J.D. Drew to a 5-year, $70 million deal. Seriously, has Drew done anything to deserve that kind of money? He’s only played more than 110 games in a season 4 times in his 9 year career. When (notice I didn’t say "if") he gets injured, the Sox will be hurting.
Orioles – The O’s are hoping that their young pitchers will be able to carry them through the season. Erik Bedard has excellent stuff, and will be the ace of the staff, supported by Daniel Cabrera and Kris "Mr. Anna" Benson. If they can shut down their opponents, Baltimore might win a few. Miguel Tejada continues to be one of the best 6’s in the game, and if Melvin Mora can stay healthy and keep his power numbers up, runs will be scored. Also, the acquistion of Aubrey Huff and the dominate play of Ramon Hernandez will only help. Yet, I have a feeling that this year will be a down year for all hitters mentioned, especially Hernandez. The bullpen was improved over the winter, with the signing of a few key late inning guys. All of them will need to succeed if the O’s want to get to Chris Ray, the 33 save man of last year. It might be a couple years before the Orioles are in contention in this division.
Devil Rays – Alas, the poor, poor Devil Rays. They’ve never had a winning record in the short history of the franchise. That may come to change soon, but not this year. Scott Kazmir has the making of a future HOF-er, just filthy stuff. But, after Kazmir, it gets iffy in the rest of the rotation. Ditto for the bullpen. Seth McClung is probably the closer, but who knows. The D-Rays led the league in blown games due to relief pitching. The other bright spot in the future (other that Kazmir) is the outfield. Carl Crawford is an absolute man-child. Delmon Young is an up-and-coming all around great player (minus throwing bats at umpires, he’s not so good at that, the ump didn’t even fall down), and Rocco Baldelli has good talent, he just needs to harness it. Look for Crawford to have another great year, only improving his numbers. I’m talking .320/25/100 this year. And another 60 SBs. For those of you wondering where the talk about B.J. Upton is, this is it. The guy can bat, but his fielding is worse than my pet dog’s. And my dog doesn’t have opposable thumbs. It’s that bad. He plays the outfield and has a career fielding percentage of .906. If you don’t realize, that’s awful for an outfield. Awful. So that’s my talk about Upton. Unless he moves to DH permanently, which he probably will eventually, look for the Devil Rays (or the Cownose Rays, they are the actual specie of ray living in the giant aquarium at Tropicana Field) to finish dead last again. Even though it’s not fair to say since the regular season hasn’t started yet, "there’s always next year!"