The 2009 Major League Baseball season is now only days away, finally! So it’s time to take a quick look at how the divisions will shape out this season, which will hopefully be a steroid-free season. Up first: the American League East. Arguably one of the toughest divisions in Baseball!
American League East:
Boston Red Sox (division winner)
Boston’s pitching staff is stacked with potential and talent—-if guys like Josh Beckett and Jon Lester can stay healthy. Boston has a very consistent batting lineup, as well, with veterans David Ortiz and Jason Bay leading the way. The one big weakness I see is the left part of the infield with third baseman Mike Lowell’s production dropping and his age quickly going up, and young gun Jed Lowrie (shortstop) rather inexperienced. Lowell has always gotten by with a decent batting average and 20+ HR’s (only 17 last year), and Lowrie will do just fine as long as he gets a day off here and there.
Boston’s relievers keep their heads in the game all season long, and Boston may win the division with 5+ games to spare.
Tampa Bay Rays (wild card contender)
It’s tough to judge the Rays after their breakthrough season just last year, but I expect them to contend with the American League wild card spot. Despite their strong pitching rotation and balance of both power and speed in the lineup, I don’t think they really have a shot at catching Boston for the East title. Evan Longoria—last year’s AL ROY winner—heads the Rays strong lineup, and the return of a healthy Carl Crawford will do wonders for their flawless outfield, which includes 24-year old Matt Joyce. Pat “The Bat” Burrell is a nice addition for this young team, and could produce 20+ HR’s, 100+ RBI’s as the team’s designated hitter. As expected, the Rays' pitching rotation will hold their ground just fine, in fact, they may get the most production out of every other American League pitching rotation. They surely have the most depth, anyway, with their three aces; James Shields, Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir who all happen to be well under the age of thirty. Once again, the Rays will be one of the most balanced teams out their with their collection of heavy bats (Burrell, Longoria and Carlos Pena), speed (Crawford and Upton), and strong arms (Shields, Garza and Kazmir).
Age and yes, the injury bug, have already hit the Yanks hard, who went out and spent over $400 million on three guys who are 28 years of age or older. One of the three, A.J. Burnett, may end up being one of the biggest free agent busts in the past decade if he doesn’t go 10-0 with a 2.08 ERA. The upside of the team’s lineup, which consists of five guys over thirty (plus the injured Alex Rodriguez who is 33-years old). After saying that, age is one of the several reasons why the Yankees will miss the playoffs again this year. I just can’t see this team playing with the likes of Boston and Tampa for 162 games, but one guy to watch is center fielder Brett Gardner, who has really impressed the scouts with his speed and glove.
This O’s team has a lot of newcomers this year, and has put together quite the farm system in both Double-A and Triple-A. Baltimore owner Peter Angelos spent a little money this off-season, as well. In fact, they spent the second-most out of all five AL East teams this winter (behind only New York, of course). He also managed to keep veteran such as All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts, third baseman Melvin Mora, and signed the face of the franchise, Nick Markakis, to a long-term deal. Ryan Freel, Ty Wigginton, Felix Pie and Cesar Izturis have all been welcome additions to this ball club, and have strengthened the bench while adding more speed. Japanese starting pitcher Koji Euhara, just signed this off-season as well, will accompany ace Jeremy Guthrie at the top of the rotation, and I expect him to rack up the K’s, and walk very few batter, picking up 15+ wins while he’s at it. Of course, I cannot forget about possible ROY candidate Matt Wieters, who will ultimately replace veteran Gregg Zaun behind the plate, but his time may not come until May or later. Over the next several years, this team has a lot to look forward to, but until then, they will continue to sit in the four spot in the very tough AL East division.
Toronto is another team filled with aging star players: Vernon Wells, Scott Rolen, Lyle Overbay and B.J. Ryan to name a few. But there is some potential there with 28-year old speedster Alex Rios anchoring the outfield, and 25-year old Adam Lind completing it. The 31-year old starting pitcher, Roy Halladay, is seeing his production slowly decline, but he may see another year or two of 15+ wins and a sub-3.00 ERA. Good thing, too, because past Halladay Toronto’s rotation is looking quite thin with Jesse Litsch (24), David Purcey (26), Ricky Romero (24) and Scott Richmond (29) filling out the rest of the rotation. Between the other four starters, there’s just 65 career Major League starts. Looks like skipper John Gibbons, who has just five years experience, is going to have his hands full this season.
MVP: Dustin Pedroia, BOS
Cy Young: C.C. Sabathia, NYY
Rookie of Year: Matt Wieters, BAL
Manager of Year: Terry Francona, BOS
Up Next: American League Central