|2008 American League East Preview||| Print |||Send|
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on March 21, 2008
Meanwhile, the New York Yankees are relying on three young starters (that includes Joba Chamberlain, who will join the rotation soon enough) and the Boston Red Sox are fighting injuries (Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling) and age (Clay Buccholz, Jon Lester). There may be a new champion in the east.
The Baltimore Orioles, however, will compete for the worst record in the major leagues. It’s a shame that this franchise has perpetually been stuck in rebuilding mode since the mid 90s.
Boston Red Sox: Last year’s World Champions return pretty much the same squad. And that never bodes well for the next season. Just ask the 2003 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, after their exhilarating 2002 World Championship. Or just ask the 2005 Boston Red Sox, who were unceremoniously dumped by the Chicago White Sox in a three-game sweep in the LDS.
The starting rotation, a strong point last season, has many questions. Beckett has a troublesome back. Schilling will be out the majority of the year recovering from a shoulder injury. Who knows whether or not Daisuke Matsuzaka will be good or Tim Wakefield can get the knuckleball to knuckle once again? Two rookies and a ton of questions do not get the job done.
Offensively, Manny Ramirez is poised for a big season. He spent the offseason working out at the Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona and is in great shape. Heck, he even showed up to spring training on time. Ramirez is ready for a great year, while David Ortiz is healthy following offseason knee surgery. The heart of the Red Sox lineup is back and ready to go.
New York Yankees: Brian Cashman had better hope he was right and that Hank Steinbrenner was, like his father usually was, terribly wrong. The team declined to trade Phil Hughes to the Twins for ace Johan Santana. A rotation led by Santana, buoyed with Chien-Ming Wang in the No. 2 slot, would have solidified the Yankees’ chances this year.
But there are too many questions to expect great things from this Yankees team. Will Andy Pettitte put the HGH controversy behind him? Can Hughes, Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy pitch effectively? Can Mike Mussina or Kei Igawa even pitch?
The offense may be the resounding answer to those questions. Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu came into camp healthy and mentally prepared to play. (Damon was fighting thoughts of retirement during the 2006-07 offseason.) Robinson Cano should be hitting fifth before the year is over. The only true weakness in this lineup is center fielder Melky Cabrera, who many teams wanted this offseason.
Tampa Bay Rays: Maybe the losing of their first 10 years came because of the Devil in their name. With a shortened nickname, the Rays may be ready to break out. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection program has them approaching 90 wins. Many others had the Rays pegged as an over-.500 team. Many fans are doubtful, but time will tell.
A big reason for their drastic improvement in wins is the addition of better pitching. Seems logical, doesn’t it? Add a young stud in Garza to a rotation fronted by James Shields and Scott Kazmir and you’ve got some quality innings. If Andy Sonnanstine, Jeff Niemann, or Edwin Jackson steps up, the Rays could have a deep rotation. And David Price, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, is throwing in the upper 90s this spring.
The team will feature several quality offensive players around the (artificial) diamond. Carlos Pena, if he can recapture about two-thirds of the form he had last season, should be great in the middle of the lineup, especially with BJ Upton, Evan Longoria, and Carl Crawford surrounding him.
Toronto Blue Jays: If they can stay healthy, this could be a team to be reckoned with. Roy Halladay and AJ Burnett are two excellent pitchers with filthy stuff. The bullpen, if BJ Ryan returns healthy and showing no signs of rust, could be deep and perhaps the best in the AL East. And a lineup featuring Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas, and Scott Rolen in the middle could hit for plenty of power, if everything goes right.
But then again, everything could go terribly wrong. Rolen has a history of run-ins with his former managers, and let’s not forget that John Gibbons has famously gotten into it with pitcher Ted Lilly and third baseman Shea Hillenbrand. Wells has had such an inconsistent career that it is next to impossible to judge which player is showing up this year. And Frank Thomas turns 40 this year. Age should catch up to him sometime, right?
Baltimore Orioles: About the only thing the Orioles are competing for is the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft. They face some stiff competition from the San Francisco Giants, but have faith in how bad this team really is. No one in the rotation has had consistent success at the major league level. The team is also openly trying to trade its best player, second baseman Brian Roberts.
The bullpen is the only saving grace. George Sherrill was lights-out last season in Seattle and has inherited the closer’s role already. Jamie Walker is another very solid left handed relief pitcher, while Chad Bradford pitched effectively last year. Throw in a healthy Chris Ray, when he returns from 2007 elbow surgery, and Danys Baez, and this bullpen could be quite formidable.