The Beasts remain but for how long? (AL East Preview)

It is one of the most competitive and best division in the MLB as the AL East contains some of the best teams in the league every year. The Yankees have regularly been one of the best teams in the MLB and always spend the most money on their players to get them to the top. The Red Sox attempted to keep up with them for years and were regularly giving the pinstripes a run for their money. Then in 2008 the Tampa Bay Rays threw their hat in the ring spending a fraction of what the Yankees and red Sox spent providing a new way to win. With three powerhouses in the league the winner of the Al East is always considered one of the best teams in the league while the second place team will almost be guaranteed a playoff spot with the Wild Card.  Last year the pattern continued as the Yankees ran away with the division and became favorites for the World Series. Meanwhile the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays fought it out for the AL Wild Card spot. The Red Sox seemingly had it locked up as September began but lost it in the biggest collapse in MLB history giving the Rays a berth in the postseason. This year these three teams will look to be back on top with the Toronto Blue jays looking to become contenders and the Baltimore Orioles looking to win what they can. The question remains who will make it out of the toughest division in the MLB and into the postseason to become a potential World Series Champion in 2012.

 

Baltimore Orioles

 

 

 

 

The Baltimore Orioles have been at the bottom of the division for years and last year nothing changed for them. Before the 2011 season the Orioles had suffered many losing seasons only winning the division title in 1997. In 2011 the O’s were a team to watch last year as their young talent began making their appearances in the major leagues. With so much potential talent the Orioles were seen as a rising team that could possibly challenge for the division in the next few years. This did not work out for the Orioles though as their potential fell far short of what they were supposed to so. The Worst offenders were the pitchers as the Orioles invested a lot of time into their starting rotation that they were hoping would pay off. It did not as the Orioles pitching staff struggled and sent the O’s back to the bottom of the division again. This year the expectations have tempered as the Orioles are looking to their young teams to improve from last year. The potential of some young players did come through near the end of the year for some of the position players including Matt Wieters who was considered the next great catcher in the MLB. These players will try to continue their development to give the team some support and give the fans some hope for the future. The biggest question will be whether or not the young pitchers can develop and because of these questions the O’s will likely stay at the bottom of the division again.

 

Strength:

Batting Power

- Matt Weiters came through at the end of the year with the power that the O’s had seen before drafting him and that added with Adam Jones and the underrated JJ Hardy makes them a powerful team if they can get past their strikeout issue

 

Weakness:

Starting Pitching

- Their young pitchers did not pay out last year and they do not look to be improving at any point soon as the entire rotation is full of holes with no true ace pitcher that can get the team wins on their own

 

Biggest Addition:

Ryan Flaherty, INF

- The addition of Flaherty provides the Orioles lineup an extra bat near the bottom of the lineup as he will add a good bat with limited power but one that can hit for average at the bottom of a lineup with plenty of powers

 

Biggest Loss:

Cesar Izturus, INF

- Izturus represented a solid utility player with a good bat and some great speed and the loss will definitely deplete the lineup as they will lose speed on the base paths as they will lack another runner to manufacture runs

 

One to Watch:

Zach Britton, LHP

- Another young pitcher for the O’s Britton will look to make his presence known as a very promising young talent who will be looking to become the next ace of the Orioles if he live sup to his potential unlike most of the young pitchers on the staff

 

Boston Red Sox

 

 

 

 

 

The Boston Red Sox have been one of the top teams in the division for years as they are constantly in the fight for the division. If they slip out of the division race the Red Sox usually slip into the American League Wild Card. This was the case in 2011 as the Red Sox were out of the division hunt but held a 9 game lead in the AL Wild Card race ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays. Then came the biggest collapse in MLB history as the Red Sox blew their lead in the wild card race and ended the season outside of the postseason. After the season there was more controversy as it was revealed that some players on the team would go in the clubhouse to drink beer and eat chicken wings. With this type of attitude and the biggest collapse in MLB history under their belt the Red Sox are looking to change and revamp their team this year. The Red Sox will try to recover with new management and a new manager left to deal with changes on the field and a dark cloud hanging over their heads. The Red Sox are still talented even after the loss of Jonathan Papelbon, Tim Wakefield, and Jason Varitek and will still be a factor if they can recover. They may be too shocked from last year as they may miss the playoffs again but they won’t be too far off from another appearance.

 

Strength:

Overall Offence

- There is still a lot of power in the lineup with David Ortiz hoping to be great all year instead of the end and Adrian Gonzalez will be alongside to provide support along with Carl Crawford there to supply the speed if he can return to form

 

Weakness:

Starting Pitching

- The pitching is not awful but they rely too much on Jon Lester and Josh Beckett with the rest of the starting five having consistency issues and having no true top pitchers in the system ready to make the majors

 

Biggest Addition:

Andrew Bailey, RHP

- With longtime closer Jonathan Papelbon leaving via free agency one of the biggest holes for the Sox was the closer and Bailey will look to fill the hole with a number of good pitches that will hopefully keep batters off-balance

 

Biggest Loss:

Jason Varitek, C

- The only player in baseball who proudly displayed the “C” on his chest, Varitek decided to retire this year leaving a big hole in the locker room as the Sox lost one of the great leaders in baseball which is something that they need after last year

 

One to Watch:

Ryan Kalish, OF

- With the right field spot opening up after J.D. Drew left in free agency Ryan Kalish may make his way off the bench this year and into the lineup where he can use his patience to get on base and hit to all fields

 

New York Yankees

 

 

 

 

 

The New York Yankees are the beasts of the East and have been for years as they continue to be the team to beat. Their dominance reached its peak in the late 90s and early 2000s when they won the division every year from 1998-2006. Then the dominance began to end as other teams began to win the division but the Yankees always remained among the top two in the division no matter who won. Last year the Yankees had some major questions at pitcher with a lot of unknown starters who did not perform up to what they could have. Still the Yankees were able to dominate the division with a great offence finishing a full 6 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays. This year the Yankees did something that they had rarely did in the offseason and that was to stay the course. The Yankees have one of the highest payrolls in the MLB and regularly reach into their deep pockets during the offseason. The Yankees usually take every big name player in the free agent market with seemingly endless pockets but this year they signed almost nobody keeping the team the same. This means that the challenges and strengths will generally remain the same as well with the pitching still shaky and the offence overpowering. The Yankees will be at the top of the division again and may have to fend off some challengers but will be in the postseason one way or another.

 

Strength:

Overall Offence

- The batting order is simply a list of all-stars including Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson along with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez looking to be more consistent this year to give the Yankees a great all-around lineup

 

Weakness:

Starting Pitching

- CC Sabathia is Dominant and the addition of Andy Pettite will help but other than the top two pitchers there are too many questions with Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and Freddie Garcia to say that the rotation is solid enough to win games on their own

 

Biggest Addition:

Andy Pettite, LHP

- Pettite left the MLB thanks to a positive drug test for HGH but he will make his return this year as he ended his retirement to sign with his former club but the biggest question will be whether or not he can shake off the rust in time to have a true impact with the team

 

Biggest Loss:

Bartolo Colon, RHP

- The saying goes “better the evil you know than the evil you don’t” well even though Colon was a bit of a wild card he was still a decent pitcher and someone who the Yankees knew rather than the unknown starters they have now

 

One to Watch:

Ivan Nova, RHP

- With a shaky rotation every pitcher will be important but nothing will be more important than the continued development of Nova who the Yankees are hoping can be a staple in their rotation for years to come

 

Tampa Bay Rays

 

 

 

 

 

The Rays are a unique team in the MLB along with being one of the trailblazers that has changed the game. For years the Rays sat at the bottom of the division behind the Red Sox and the Yankees like the rest of the division. They could not keep up with the amount of money both teams would spend and suffered for it. Then they revolutionized the league as they went into 2008 with a different attitude and a new formula. The Rays did not start spending a lot of money in the offseason but instead saw an investment in their minor league system pay off. The Rays got past the Red Sox and the Yankees to win the division showing everyone that you don’t need to keep up with the payrolls to compete with the best teams. The Rays continue this tradition to be one of the top teams in the league every year and always challenging for the top spot in the division. Last year the Rays took advantage of a late season collapse by the Red Sox and a great September to earn the wild card spot. They could not return to the World Series but they are still one of the strong teams in the division. The team is good all around and continues to pump out solid prospects to fill any holes meaning they will be at the top of the division again and will be sure to fight for a spot in the postseason.

 

Strength:

Starting Pitching

- The Rays have one of the best pitchers in David Price and a number of great prospects including breakout star Jeremy Hellickson who will join James Shields, Wade Davis, and Matt Moore to make what will be one of the toughest rotations in the league

 

Weakness:

Bullpen

- The rotation will need to be as advertised to avoid the bullpen that is aging and although they have some great stats from last year the fact that they only threw 400 innings, less than any other bullpen in the league, masks the fact that they are not a strong contingent

 

Biggest Addition:

Jose Molina, C

- With so many young prospects coming up through the farm system the Rays’ addition of the veteran catcher will help the young pitchers to manage a game especially with Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson playing a big role this year

 

Biggest Loss:

Johnny Damon, DH

- Damon was a solid bat in the lineup of a team that relies on pitching more than anything to win games and the loss of their solid DH will definitely create a hole in the batting order that they will need to fill

 

One to Watch:

Jeremy Hellickson, RHP

- Last year Hellickson was the prodigy for the Rays who developed him from their system to the major leagues and last year he broke out to be one of the best young pitchers in the league and will look to continue his dominance this year

 

Toronto Blue Jays

 

 

 

 

 

If they gave out the World Series for the most talked about team in the MLB the Toronto Blue Jays would take home the title. The Jays have been talked about a lot this year as a potential contender in the division where they have only been able to pass the Orioles. The Jays are currently in one of the longest postseason droughts in the MLB, 18 seasons, as they have missed the postseason since they won the World Series in 1993. Their excuse for years was that they could be in the postseason if they were in a different division but the success of the Rays changed their attitude. The Jays decided to change their attitude after they saw the Rays win without spending the same money as the Red Sox or Yankees. They hired Alex Anthopoulos to turn around the team and he did just that getting rid of the big contracts of Vernon Wells and Alex Rios and focusing on development. With new management the Jays began showing signs of improvement as many of the young talent made their appearance. Although they only finished with a .500 record, good enough for 4th place, the emergence of some young talent gave the team hope for their future. This year the Jays are hoping that the investment in their development will payoff this year and many people believe it will. This year the Jays may come out strong and show their young strength with a winning record but it may not be enough to get into the postseason this year.

 

Strength:

Overall Offence

- Led by HR king Jose Bautista the Jays have been built with an offence first mentality regularly leading the league in runs and Home Runs and with the emergence of Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus will continue this pattern

 

Weakness:

Bullpen

- Last year the Jays bullpen was unable to keep wins intact and unable to save the starting pitchers when they struggled and this year they have revamped the relievers but with plenty of questions remaining it is hard to say they are improved in that aspect

 

Biggest Addition:

Sergio Santos, RHP

- The biggest issue for the Jays last year was a trio of closers this year a great trade by Anthopoulos brought in Santos who went 30-for-36 in saves last year and will hope to bring that to Toronto to solve the Jays’ biggest problem

 

Biggest Loss:

Jose Molina, C

- Molina was more than just the backup catcher last year as he was a great leader and a great game manager that mentored J.P. Arencibia and helped the young pitchers and his leadership will be missed in the locker room

 

One to Watch:

Brett Lawrie, 3B

- Lawrie became a fan favorite for his hockey-like mentality and intensity as the Canadian represents the hometown hero and a great player that will hope to continue his development with a full season in the major leagues

 

Prediction:

1. New York Yankees

2. Tampa Bay Rays

3. Boston Red Sox

4. Toronto Blue Jays

5. Baltimore Orioles

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