For much of the recent past, the American League’s Eastern division has been home to the best offenses and the most offensive spending. However, in this millennium, the division has produced only one World Series champion; furthermore, in the past two years, none of the five teams have escaped the first round of the playoffs. That may change in 2007. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have loaded up on pitching, bringing in Andy Pettitte and Daisuke Matsuzaka, respectively. Both of these teams -- as well as the Toronto Blue Jays -- have legitimate chances to win 90-plus games next season and play deep into the postseason. Here’s a close look at the beasts in the east.
New York Yankees
The Reason for Hope: The 2007 Yankees are going to redefine the term “Bronx Bombers.” The projected lineup for next season features nine players who should achieve double-digit home run totals, and many of their hitters rank among the best in the game in getting on base and/or seeing pitches per plate appearance.
The Cause for Concern: Each member of the starting rotation has question marks. Can Chien-Ming Wang continue to get away with giving up so many hits? Can Kei Igawa avoid giving up the walks that his Japanese statistics say he does? Can Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, and Pettitte stay healthy?
Prediction: First place, with 98 wins
Boston Red Sox
The Reason for Hope: The starting rotation runs six deep with Matsuzaka, Curt Schilling, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, and Jon Lester. All of these pitchers can last deep into games and have been successful starters throughout their careers.
The Cause for Concern: Manager Terry Francona has a lot of arms to go to in his bullpen, but when push comes to shove, just who is going to get the call? It doesn’t seem like that question has a good answer at the time.
Prediction: Second place, with 95 wins
Toronto Blue Jays
The Reason for Hope: This offense, while it won’t compete with the other two teams listed above, has a chance to be very productive. Center fielder Vernon Wells is becoming the best player no one’s heard of, while Alex Rios, Lyle Overbay, and Troy Glaus are all strong complements.
The Cause for Concern: After the powerful duo of Roy Halladay and AJ Burnett, there isn’t much in the starting rotation for the Blue Jays. In fact, of the three starters coming after them, only one -- Tomo Ohka -- had an ERA below 5.00 last year, and that came in the National League. Injuries have sidelined Halladay and Burnett in the past, and if either one goes down for an extended period of time next year, that effectively ends the chances the Blue Jays will make the postseason.
Prediction: Third place, with 90 wins
The Reason for Hope: Talented, young arms abound for the Baltimore Orioles. Erik Bedard took his first step toward becoming an ace, while Daniel Cabrera has the ability to stifle any offense on any night due to the quality of his stuff. A second year under the tutelage of wunderkind Leo Mazzone will do these youngsters a lot of good.
The Cause for Concern: The projected lineup for this ballclub doesn’t feature one player who exceeded 25 home runs last year. Miguel Tejada (24), Melvin Mora (21), and Aubrey Huff (21) came close, but the Orioles need a huge middle-of-the-order presence to make up for the deficiencies at the back of their rotation.
Prediction: Fourth place, with 75 wins
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
The Reason for Hope: The upcoming 2007 season won’t be a good one for Devil Ray fans everywhere, but Scott Kazmir is one of the better left handed pitchers in the major leagues, while Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, and Delmon Young form what will be the best outfield in 2009 and beyond.
The Cause for Concern: The Devil Rays, a team obviously in the rebuilding phase, just don’t have enough veterans on their ballclub. With so many “troublesome” players -- like Young and Elijah Dukes, for example -- there needs to be a few older players on the ballclub to help these youngsters adjust to life in the major leagues.Prediction: Fifth place, with 66 wins
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