THE BEast: 2011 AL East Preview

Posted: March 9, 2011 by mrwhitener in MLB
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The AL East is the class of divisions in all of baseball; let’s just get that out the way early. Three of the last four AL champs are from the East. Even the second place club is better than most other division winners. To pay testament to this fact, since the Wild Card playoff spot was instituted in 1994, 12 of the 16 winners have come from the AL East. To go a notch down, the third place finisher last year (Boston) won 89 games last year. That club also would’ve won any other. I’m also pretty sure that the fourth and fifth place clubs wouldn’t finish in the bottom half of any other division, but that’s an ugly fact of being in the East.

2010 Final Standings

  1. Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)
  2. New York Yankees (95-67) [Wild Card}
  3. Boston Red Sox (89-73)
  4. Toronto Blue Jays (85-77)
  5. Baltimore Orioles (66-96)

Longoria led the Rays to a East title a year ago, but has a reloaded division rival in front of him now.

However, last year, despite having their usual tight race in the division, the East did not represent the AL in the World Series. Yet all eyes returned the East bigwigs in the winter, as many of the biggest moves in baseball revolved around this division. Boston went for it all and boosted their entire approach with both blockbuster trades and big signings, the Yankees have the most brutal lineup in the game, still, and the Rays lost more than any other team in baseball, but still have a strong talent base. Even the perennial Eastern cellar dwellers, the Blue Jays and Orioles, made moves to try to level the field, but are they enough to pull them into the race with the “big three” (my Lord, the NBA has ruined that term) at the top of the division? Let’s see.

 

ALL DIVISION TEAM

C: Matt Wieters-Baltimore Orioles

1B: Mark Teixeira-New York Yankees

2B: Robinson Cano-New York Yankees

3B: Evan Longoria-Tampa Bay Rays

SS: Derek Jeter-New York Yankees

LF: Carl Crawford-Boston Red Sox

CF: Curtis Granderson-New York Yankees

RF: Nick Markakis-Baltimore Orioles

DH: David Ortiz-Boston Red Sox

 

Starting Pitcher: C.C. Sabathia-New York Yankees

Starting Pitcher: David Price-Tampa Bay Rays

Starting Pitcher: Jon Lester-Boston Red Sox

Starting Pitcher: Clay Buchholz-Boston Red Sox

 

Bullpen Righty: Bobby Jenks-Boston Red Sox

Bullpen Lefty: Pedro Feliciano-New York Yankees

Closer: Mariano Rivera-New York Yankees

 

BEST PLAYERS

  1. Mark Teixeira (New York)
  2. Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay)
  3. Robinson Cano (Yankees)
  4. Carl Crawford (Red Sox)
  5. Mariano Rivera (Yankees)
  6. CC Sabathia (Yankees)
  7. David Price (Tampa Bay)
  8. Alex Rodriguez (Yankees)
  9. Jon Lester (Red Sox)
  10. Jose Bautista (Blue Jays)

Bautista's 54 home runs a year ago launched him into baseball's elite. Encore?

The absentees here are almost as impressive as the list itself. No, Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz, Adam Jones, Curtis Granderson or Dustin Pedroia was not slighted. This division is loaded. Teixeira barely edges Longoria as the premier player due to a more consistent bat, slightly. Cano is the premier second baseman in the game, and Price and Sabathia are two of the top three pitchers in the American League. All of this and the game’s best athlete (Crawford), potential future all-time home run king (Rodriguez) and greatest closer in history (Rivera) still remain.

LINEUP

  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. Toronto
  4. Baltimore
  5. Tampa Bay

The Red Sox have the most versatile lineup in the game, but are light towards the bottom of it. The Blue Jays hit more home runs than any other team, but it’s too often all or nothing with them. The Yankees still have the most dangerous lineup in either league. They feature five guys (Rodriguez, Teixeira, Granderson, Swisher & Cano) that have 25 plus home run power, in addition to Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter who consistently score runs as well.

ROTATION

Price was 2010’s Cy Young runner up a year ago, and still head the East’s best group of arms.
  1. Rays
  2. Red Sox
  3. Yankees
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

Even without the departed Matt Garza, the Rays deploy the most balanced and dependable rotation in the division in Price, James Shields, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis and rookie Jeremy Hellickson. Boston is barely edged out, and could be better on potential, but Josh Beckett & Daisuke Matsuzaka have to be healthy for this to be a reality.

1-2 PUNCH

  1. Red Sox (Lester & Buchholz)
  2. Rays (Price & Shields)
  3. Yankees (Sabathia & Hughes)
  4. Blue Jays (Romero & Morrow)
  5. Orioles (Guthrie & Matsuz)

The Sox top two arms went a combined 36-16 last year, and struck out 345 batters, and haven’t reached their primes yet. Buchholz has as much potential as any pitcher in baseball, and Lester is easily one of the top three lefties in baseball. Tampa Bay wins on depth, but the Sox take the nod in best anchors to a rotation.

BULLPEN

  1. Red Sox
  2. Yankees
  3. Orioles
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Rays

Close race here between the Sox and Yanks, but I give the nod to the Sox because they can compliment Jonathan Papelbon with existent power arm Daniel Bard now with Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, who were critical relievers for two contenders last year in Chicago and Tampa Bay, respectively. Rafael Soriano and Rivera in the Bronx however is the best 8-9th inning combo in baseball.

BENCH

  1. Red Sox
  2. Rays
  3. Yankees
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

Boston’s depth is impressive veterans Jason Varitek and Mike Cameron waiting in the wings as both surplus bench bats and excellent defensive options for close games. Also, youngster Jed Lowrie will see plenty of playing time as well. Tampa’s youth provides a talented backdrop as well, with Matt Joyce, Felipe Lopez and Casey Kotchman.

3-4-5 HITTERS

  1. Yankees (Teixeira, Rodriguez, Cano)
  2. Red Sox (Crawford, Gonzalez, Youkilis)
  3. Blue Jays (Bautista, Lind, Hill)
  4. Rays (Longoria, Manny, Zobrist)
  5. Orioles (Lee, Guerrero, Markakis)

The heart of the Yankee lineup is the best in baseball, producing 92 home runs and 342 RBI last year, despite A-Rod missing the beginning of the year and Teixeira struggling to hit .200 for the first month & a half. However, if they are the gold medal standard, Crawford, Gonzalez and Youkilis make hard push for the silver. Gonzalez’s tremendous power numbers could go over the top with the short porch in Boston, and Crawford and Youkilis are two of the best gap-to-gap hitters in baseball. In Toronto, Adam Lind and Aaron Hill had terrible down years, but Bautista’s 54 home run outburst led baseball, and with a return to form by Hill and Lind, even a slight drop off from Bautista will still make for a potent Toronto attack.

A-Rod, and his 613 homers, is still at the heart of baseball's best lineup.

TABLESETTERS

  1. Red Sox (Ellsbury & Pedroia)
  2. Yankees (Jeter, Granderson, Gardner)
  3. Orioles (Roberts & Jones)
  4. Blue Jays (Davis & Escobar)
  5. Rays (Jaso & Damon)

Boston could easily move Crawford into this top of the order mix for even more speed, but Ellsbury and Pedroia are two of the best small ball hitters in baseball, with Pedroia being one of the best doubles hitters in the game, and a health Ellsbury stole 120 bases in 2008-09.

DEFENSE

  1. Red Sox
  2. Yankees
  3. Rays
  4. Orioles
  5. Blue Jays

The Sox will lose a bit on one corner after not bringing back all-universe defender Adrian Beltre at third base, but they get that much better at first base with new Adrian taking over. In the outfield, the combined speed of Ellsbury and 2010 Gold Glover Crawford, they have two guys fast enough to use a two man outfield (seriously, I think).

Gonzalez brings a potential glove as well as his power potential.

SPEED

  1. Red Sox
  2. Orioles
  3. Rays
  4. Yankees
  5. Blue Jays

See above reasons for the Sox, but Baltimore can move as well, with a healthy Roberts having 40 steal potential, and new third baseman Mark Reynolds being able to move around the bases as well (on the rare occasion he actually reaches or stops on them – 76 home runs, but 431 strikeouts over the last two years). B.J. Upton, Johnny Damon, and eventually Desmond Jennings, can all move around the diamond for Tampa.

MANAGER

  1. Rays (Joe Maddon)
  2. Yankees (Joe Girardi)
  3. Orioles (Buck Showalter)
  4. Red Sox (Terry Francona)
  5. Blue Jays (John Farrell)

Maddon has led the Rays franchise to new levels of success during his tenure.

For years Maddon has steered a highly talented roster to outcompeting their much more highly paid competition in the division, having won the East two out of the last three years. However, after losing more from his team than any other manager in baseball, he’ll have his greatest challenge to date. But if anybody could take lemons and turn them into competing lemonade, it’s Maddon. This is no slight to any other East manager, as this is the best collection of skippers of any division.

ROOKIES/*PROSPECTS

  1. Jeremy Hellickson (Pitcher, Rays)
  2. Kyle Drabek (Pitcher, Blue Jays)
  3. *Jesus Montero (Catcher, Yankees
  4. *Desmond Jennings (Left fielder, Rays)
  5. Reid Brignac (Shortstop, Rays)

Hellickson doesn’t have the most jump off the page stuff you’ll ever, see but he’ll be a highly effective pitcher quickly, because he has multiple pitches that can be used at anytime and excellent control. Drabek is one of the top 20 prospects in baseball, and was the key piece in the Roy Halladay trade a year ago. Montero has tons of raw power, but the Yanks have to find room for him, which they no doubt will by midsummer. Jennings is hailed as the heir apparent to the departed Crawford in both left field and athletic ability.

The Yanks will find a way to utilize Montero at some point this summer.

FINANCES

  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. Orioles
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Rays

Obviously the Yankees and Red Sox have the most available funds, but the Yankees will be the ones looking to use it the most aggressively as they have the most concerns remaining that they will attempt to address this year in the trade market, especially in the pitching department.

IMPACT ADDITIONS

  1. Carl Crawford (Red Sox from Rays)
  2. Adrian Gonzalez (Red Sox from Padres)
  3. Rafael Soriano (Yankees from Rays)
  4. Vladimir Guerrero (Orioles from Rangers)
  5. Manny Ramirez (Rays from White Sox)

Crawford and Gonzalez simultaneously reshaped the Red Sox’s roster and propelled them to a new level of expectation after signing a week apart in December. Guerrero is the centerpiece in a reshaped lineup in Baltimore, and the Rays are hoping Manny has some magic left in his bat to propel a Rays lineup that lost two of its most important bats this winter in Crawford and Carlos Pena.

PREDICTION

  1. RED SOX
  2. YANKEES
  3. RAYS
  4. BLUE JAYS
  5. ORIOLES

What separates the one and two spots in this division is the matter of depth versus top end talent. The Yankees take the nod in everyday top end talent, but the Red Sox bring a close level of top end talent, that is coupled with a superior remainder of the roster. They have room to improve from a pitching standpoint and the Yankees will have to get maximum production from their rotation every day to stay with the Sox and the Rays. Speaking of the Rays, they will take a step back due to the loss of their entire bullpen from a year ago and some top end bats as well. However, Maddon will still be able to produce a solid overall season riding his starting pitchers and Evan Longoria alone. The Blue Jays could make a push for third place, but I don’t think their improving pitching staff is ready to make a big enough push to throw them into real competition. The Orioles have the talent to make a 10 to 15 game improvement from a year ago, but whether that is enough to end up in fourth place is still a question. Either way, that’s their roof.

I take the Red Sox to make the push for their third World Series in the last seven years, and for the Yankees to be one of the favorites to be yet another Wild Card winner for the East.

 

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Comments
  1. Durl McGrone says:

    Boston wins the AL this year man. Cmon son.

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