Week Four of the baseball previews, which means we're more than halfway through and coming out the other side.
What better way to start the second half of the previews than with the AL East?
Though the AL West and AL Central are both very competitive, and the West has a chance to be the most competitive division top to bottom, the AL East is the strongest division in baseball.
Read on to find out why.
"High Expectations". That's what it comes down to in the American League East. Each team has its own different version of what those high expectations are - the Blue Jays and Orioles, for example, might have different ideas about what 2010 will bring than the other three teams in the division - but make no mistake about it. Each team in this division has an expectation that their fans will be disappointed about if it is not met.
The Yankees are the easiest to figure out because they're, well, the Yankees. Yes, they won a World Series last year, but this year is this year, and all last year did was raise the bar higher for this year. Some key parts have changed, though (Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui out, Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson in), and they will be expected to help keep the wins coming at the New Yankee Stadium.
The Red Sox are in a similar boat - they have to keep up with the Yankees. So they signed John Lackey to complete what could be the best starting rotation in baseball. The bottom line for both the Yankees and Red Sox is that anything less than a World Series win would be a disappointment. Expectations in New York and Boston are high.
The Rays are just a year removed from a World Series appearance. They had a down year last year, but no one in Tampa is conceding the division to the Yankees or Red Sox. Their expectation is to get back to the post-season, and do some damage there. It's hard competing in this division, but it's not an unrealistic expectation for the Rays. It is an expectation, though - these are not the sad-sack Rays of the first decade of their existence - the expectation is that Tampa will compete.
The Orioles seem to be ready to turn a corner, and in Baltimore the expectation is that the Orioles will reverse a trend that has seen an increase in losses each year since 2004. They are developing young pitchers and seem to have an established lineup right now of homegrown talent. 70 wins would be a step in the right direction, and maybe not an unrealistic expectation.
Finally, no one can realistically expect a good 2010 for the Blue Jays. They're headed downward quickly. But the expectation in Toronto has to be that they can follow quickly in Baltimore's footsteps. Between the prospects they acquired in exchange for Roy Halladay, and the young pitchers that need to perform and stay healthy, the Blue Jays could turn things around in short time. But the high expectations are placed on the new front office, which has been saddled with some difficult contracts and has already started to acquire prospects (the Halladay trade). They need to perform better than the previous administration.
5 Impact Players
(In Alphabetical Order by Team, so as not to ruin the surprise of how I pick them to finish)
1. Brad Bergesen, Baltimore - Bergeson took a line drive off the leg last year that put an end to a very promising season. He had 19 great starts while putting together a nice rookie season that was cut short on July 30th after the liner hit his leg. The Orioles are depending on young pitching - Bergesen showed for a long stretch last year that he can be counted on in their plans...provided there are no lingering effects from the leg injury.
2. Jonathan Papelbon, Boston - I've owned Papelbon in fantasy leagues the past few years, so I've watched him closely. (And of course, this makes me an expert. Don't laugh.) Many of the past few years he has been less effective as the year wore on. His numbers may not indicate it, but if you watch him he became more hittable. I feel like this is microcosmic of his career. It just seems like he's going to get old early. It may or may not happen this year. Speculation aside, the fact is he blew a save the last time the Red Sox played, and it resulted in them being swept out of the playoffs. So it will be interesting to see how he bounces back from that failure and whether he is still effective late in the 2010 season.
3. A. J. Burnett, New York - I think Burnett is the player on the Yankees most likely to sit back and enjoy the championship for a little too long. He'll be interesting to watch in 2010, because I feel like he's always a wild card, and coming off a World Series win, how will he do? (He wasn't much of a factor in the Marlins' 2003 season at all, so this is the first time he's coming off a World Series win in which he contributed.)
4. David Price, Tampa Bay - OK, David Price. Time to show who you are. An electric debut in late 2008 followed by 23 starts in 2009 after a late-May callup. 2010 will go a long way towards figuring out whether Price is an ace-in-waiting, or just another number three-type pitcher.
5. Vernon Wells, Toronto - Wells is showing some signs that he has a bit of Bret Saberhagen in him - up year followed by down year followed by up year. Last year was a down year for Wells, who has a contract that shouldn't have any down years. He's due for an up year, which Toronto will need...but Wells' biggest impact could very well end up being who the Blue Jays get for him in a trade...and then how he impacts the team that gets him.