Week 4 of my baseball previews and picks has us looking at the American League East...and starting to turn things on their head a bit.
You can go anywhere to see people picking the Yankees or Red Sox to finish at the top of the division...I'm here to spice things up a little bit.
Listen, the Yankees and Red Sox are the two best teams in the league...probably even in all of baseball...if everything goes right.
But let's just say guys like Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, all of whom are being relied on heavily for the Yankees, get old fast and don't repeat outstanding 2009 seasons. And maybe one of their other stars (Mark Teixeira or Alex Rodriguez, say) has an off year. And maybe, like I said yesterday, A.J. Burnett is down after an up year that included a championship.
And let's just say the question marks surrounding the Red Sox pitching rotation (Josh Beckett's blisters, Daisuke Matsuzaka's health, John Lackey's ability to pitch at Fenway Park) and lineup (no 30-home run hitter returning from a year ago, will David Ortiz perform, Mike Cameron) turn out to have answers that are not to Red Sox fans' likings?
What if those two multiple-step scenarios happen and the Tampa Bay Rays rediscover what they had going two years ago? Let's say their pitching staff gets it together from day one (it's an impressive one), and their lineup stays healthy and gets consistent production from its established stars (Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena), and repeat performances from the likes of Ben Zobrist.
Then this division might have the three best teams in baseball, or at least three of the best teams. And might the Rays be able to finish ahead of the Yankees and Red Sox? That's what I'm going to pick:
I'm doing this partly to spice up what could otherwise be a blah pick, and partly because although I believe the Yankees and Red Sox are really good, they both come into the year with plenty of question marks. Too many, perhaps, for a dominant team to have. So I think this is realistic.
The Baltimore Orioles will be interesting, and I think, fun to watch. They could be just a year away from actually competing with those other three teams and turning this into a four-team division race. They have some good players, and some developing pitchers. The big thing for the Orioles this year will be how those pitchers turn out - if they have good seasons, watch out for Baltimore next year (2011). If this year is a disaster...not much good will come in the future.
In fact, they may resemble the Blue Jays. Well, that's not entirely fair. There is some talent in Toronto, just not enough to keep them from being a last place team. What's good to watch for in Toronto? In the absence of Roy Halladay, believe it or not, their pitching. They have some young guys - Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan - who were injured last year and had good seasons in 2008. And Ricky Romero was very good for much of last year. There's hope in Toronto, too. More if they can unload Vernon Wells' contract.
AL EAST NOTES
-Interesting connection that Nick Johnson is back in New York with the Yankees. Throughout their dynasty years he was considered the hot up-and-coming prospect. He debuted in 2001, a year after the Yankees' last championship to that point. Here they are 10 years or so later, and Johnson is back with the team a year after winning a championship. In his years in New York, he did not win a ring. Might he get one this time around?
-The big news in Boston is that Jacoby Ellsbury is shifting to left field to accomodate Mike Cameron. I have a sneaking suspicion that something will happen during the year that will result in Ellsbury playing the majority of the year in center and the Sox not messing with success. This has Jose Reyes-to-second-base-for-Kaz-Matsui written all over it. (Incidentally, also up the middle for the Mets that year - Mike Cameron in center field!)
Nest Week: AL West