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MLB season previews: American League East

Posted by Ron Opher On April 3

PhillyPhanatics.com’s Major League Baseball previews continue with the American League East

(Link to prior previews: AL West; AL Central)

In 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays snuck into the postseason in the waning moments of the season’s last day. The Yankees won the AL East, while the Red Sox finished third again, and cleaned house in the dugout and in the front office. Who will the odd team out be in 2011? Or will there be an odd team out with the playoff expansion to 2 wildcards ?

Ron Opher takes a look at these 3 powers, along with the Blue Jays and the Orioles, in PhillyPhanatics.com’s AL East preview.


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New York Yankees

2011 record: 97-65, 1st place

Key departures: Jorge Posada, Bartolo Colon, Luis Ayala, Jesus Montero, A.J. Burnett

Key additions: Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez

Projected lineup:

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
2B Robinson Cano
3B Alex Rodriguez
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Nick Swisher
DH Raul Ibanez
C Russell Martin
LF Brett Gardner

Projected rotation:

LH C.C. Sabathia
RH Hiroki Kuroda
RH Phil Hughes
LH Ivan Nova
RH Freddy Garcia/Michael Pineda (DL)

CL Mariano Rivera

Season outlook: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are not quite ready to pass the torch. Neither is Andy Pettitte. Jorge Posada did hang up his cleats after 2011. The rest of the Yankees are a mix of home-grown players like Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova – plus centi-millionaire free agents Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia and shrewd trade acquisitions Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Michael Pineda. Now it appears that Pineda, acquired in the off-season from Seattle for previously untouchable catching prospect Jesus Montero, has a balky shoulder which has landed him on the DL. Joba Chamberlain is already going to miss significant time – first due to recovery from last season’s Tommy John surgery, and now due to a severely dislocated ankle suffered while with his son at a trampoline facility. In the end, the same pitching woes which have long plagued the Yankees, especially in depth of rotation and BBR (Bullpen Before Rivera), will pose a challenge to the team with baseball’s top payroll. How they handle that over the next six months will go a long way toward determining both whether the join the postseason derby, whether they have to use C.C. Sabathia in a play-in game and ultimately whether they will go as far as they did in 2009 – winning the World Series after their third-place finish in 2008 and huge off-season spending spree which followed.

Projected finish: 1st place

Tampa Bay Rays

2011 record: 91-71, 2nd place

Key departures: Johnny Damon, Casey Kotchman, Kelly Shoppach, John Jaso, Andy Sonnanstine, Juan Cruz, Dan Johnson

Key additions: Carlos Pena, Luke Scott, Jeff Keppinger, Jose Molina, Fernando Rodney

Projected lineup:
CF Desmond Jennings
RF Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
1B Carlos Pena
LF Matthew Joyce
DH Luke Scott
2B Jeff Keppinger (will likely move to bench when OF B.J. Upton returns from DL, with Ben Zobrist taking over at 2B)
SS Sean Rodriguez
C Jose Molina

Projected rotation:

RH James Shields
LH David Price
RH Jeremy Hellickson
LH Matt Moore
RH Jeff Niemann

CL Kyle Farnsworth

Season outlook: Every year it’s easy to write off the Tampa Bay Rays as playing third fiddle to the Yankees and Red Sox. Truth is, that’s only happened in one of the last four years. The other three times, the Rays made the postseason, winning two division titles and one AL pennant in the process. For what it’s worth, that’s a better track record than the Red Sox (2 postseason appearances, 0 division titles, 0 World Series appearances). Last season, Carl Crawford leaving the Rays via free agency and joining the Red Sox was supposed to change that. Between Crawford’s awful season in Boston and Ben Zobrist’s bounce-back season in Tampa, that simply didn’t happen. Add in a full season of future ace Matt Moore, and you can certainly make a case for the Rays to continue their winning ways while manager Joe Maddon works his magic in the dugout. The pitching looks like the strong suit of the team, but beyond the top 3 of Jennings-Zobrist-Longoria, the rest of the lineup is suspect. Carlos Pena returns after a year at Wrigley, and will supply a bunch of home runs, but also a bunch of strikeouts and a batting average not too far above the Mendoza line. DItto for perennial disappointment B.J. Upton. There isn’t a GM in the majors who wouldn’t now rather have his younger brother, Justin. If the lineup exceeds expectations, the Rays could return to the postseason. If not, they may find themselves nosed out by their divisional rivals and by the Angels-Rangers runner up.

Projected finish: 3rd place

Boston Red Sox

2011 record: 90-72, 3rd place

Key departures: Jonathan Papelbon, Erik Bedard, J.D. Drew, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, Dan Wheeler

Key additions: Andrew Bailey, Mark Melancon, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Nick Punto

Projected lineup:

CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2B Dustin Pedroia
1B Adrian Gonzalez
3B Kevin Youkilis
DH David Ortiz
LF Cody Ross/Carl Crawford (DL)
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
RF Ryan Sweeney
SS Mike Aviles

Projected rotation:

LH Jon Lester
RH Josh Beckett
RH Clay Buchholz
LH Felix Doubront/Andrew Miller (DL)
RH Daniel Bard

CL Andrew Bailey (DL)/Mark Melancon

Season outlook: Things can’t get any worse for the high-payroll Red Sox, can they? Consecutive third-place finishes. Reports of starting pitchers drinking beer during games on days they weren’t scheduled to pitch – including unconfirmed reports that beer consumption even occurred i n the dugout. Fast forward to 2012. Terry Francona is out as manager, Bobby Valentine is in. Theo Epstein flees the GM post to try to resuscitate the Cubs. Ben Cherington now gets a promotion and his chance to run the team – though the personnel is pretty locked in, thanks to the major roster turnover going into last season. That turnover did not produce the desired results – and fans are pointing squarely at Carl Crawford (11-56-.255, with 65 runs scored, 18 steals, and a .289 OBP – same as Raul Ibanez). They could also point at Epstein’s 2010 move to bring in John Lackey (recovering from Tommy John surgery – along with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill), whom the Red Sox are stuck with for 3 more years at nearly $50 million. The Lackey signing rivals the Barry Zito and Carl Pavano signings as one of the worst free agent pitcher signings when all the signs of mediocrity were right there for all to see. Then again, the Yankees and Giants both overcame those signings to win a World Series soon after, so there’s something for Red Sox Nation to hang their collective hat on. Whether the top 6 in the lineup and the top 3 in the rotation can carry the whole team is a question that will dog this Boston team all season long.

Projected finish: 2nd place

Toronto Blue Jays

2011 record: 81-81, 4th place

Key departures: Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, strong>Jose Molina

Key additions: Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Omar Vizquel

Projected lineup:

SS Yunel Escobar
2B Kelly Johnson
RF Jose Bautista
1B Adam Lind
DH Edwin Encarnacion
3B Brett Lawrie
LF Eric Thames
CF Colby Rasmus
C J. P. Arencibia

Projected rotation:

LH Ricky Romero
RH Brandon Morrow (DL)
LH Brett Cecil
RH Henderson Alvarez
RH Kyle Drabek

CL Sergio Santos/Francisco Cordero

Season outlook: Hockey fans in Toronto, the #1 English-speaking hockey market in the world, will appreciate this analogy: the Blue Jays are baseball’s answer to the New York Islanders. With several top teams ahead of them, and an unbalanced schedule, both the Blue Jays and the Islanders are blocked from the playoffs. Also, their incremental improvements over the last few seasons are going largely unnoticed. The analogy continues in terms of young stars. The Islanders are built around John Tavares, who was recently named to his first NHL All-Star team. On the Blue Jays, look for a breakout season from phenom Brett Lawrie, acquired from the Brewers before last season in the Shaun Marcum trade. Lawrie, who just turned 22, got his first big league opportunity last season with an August call-up, and proceeded to post a 9-25-.293 stat line, in 150 at bats. In a homer-friendly hitters paradise at Rogers Centre, and with the big bat of Jose Bautista offering some protection, look for Lawrie to flirt with 30 HRs, a .300 average and his own first All-Star appearance.

Projected finish: 4th place

Baltimore Orioles

2011 record: 69-93, 5th place

Key departures: Jeremy Guthrie, Vladimir Guerrero, Luke Scott, Cesar Izturis, Jeremy Accardo

Key additions: Jason Hammel, Wei-Ying Chen, Wilson Betemit, Luis Ayala, Ronny Paulino, Nick Johnson

Projected lineup:

LF Nolan Reimold
SS J.J. Hardy
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
3B Mark Reynolds
DH Wilson Betemit
1B Chris Davis
2B Robert Andino; Brian Roberts is on the DL with post-concussion syndrome and will lead off upon his return

Projected rotation:

RH Jake Arrieta
LH Wei-Ying Chen
RH Jason Hammel
LH Brian Matusz
RH Tommy Hunter

CL Jim Johnson

Season outlook: The Orioles, like the Blue Jays, are also focused on youth. Their results of late have been more like the Royals, however. While we expect Kansas City to move up in the small-market AL Central, Baltimore is hamstrung being in the AL East, and practically doomed to another year out of the running, even with the expanded playoffs. To make matters worse, this could be the year where the Washington Nationals capture the interest of baseball fans in the Baltimore-Washington corridor and begin to relegate the Orioles to second-class status. Peter Angelos has proven to be anything but a likeable owner, though watching Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz develop into star-caliber players gives Orioles fans more hope than they’ve had in recent years. Now all they need is a full geographic realignment…or would they still finish last in a “Southeast” division featuring Washington, Atlanta, Miami and Tampa Bay?

Projected finish: 5th place

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