American League East Preview – Phillies Nation
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American League East Preview

The American League East is the toughest, most talented division in baseball. There really isn’t even a close competitor. The Yankees, after providing the rest of baseball with a brief respite from appearing in the postseason, restocked their team with multiple marquee free agents and stormed through the playoffs, only to lose to the Phillies in the World Series.

Nice thought, right?

The Red Sox feature a patient, talented offense and powerful pitching staff. The Rays are young, improving and graduating a number of high draft picks almost regularly. The Orioles sport some talented hitters and an arsenal of prospect starters nearly ready to try and alter the balance of power in the division. The Blue Jays, while clearly not in contention this year, have restocked their farm with solid prospects on a team that could already compete for the N.L. wild card.

The 2009 Season

New York Yankees (103-59, 1st)

It sort of leaves a bitter taste in the mouth to say it, but no team uses the current economic situation in baseball to its advantage better than the Yankees. A team with an impossibly large revenue stream in a league with no salary cap is a recipe for success, and the Yankees have, essentially, been a perennial powerhouse forever. They signed Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia out of free agency and won their 27th title. It’s no accident; good players means a good team.

So, of course, like any good team, the Yankees made improvements to a team that, even if left alone, would have been a favorite to repeat in 2010. They traded for Curtis Granderson. They signed Nick Johnson. They traded for Javier Vazquez. They retained superprospect Jesus Montero in spite of all that wheeling and dealing. And at the end of the day, they’re an even heavier favorite to emerge from the American League once more.

The only hope for the anti-Yankee is that this team is aging and their pitching is a bit suspect (except for that Rivera dude). Unfortunately, no one has really shown any signs of slowing down, so at least for 2010, it appears age won’t really be a problem.

The pitching is pretty good. The offense is unbelievable. The Yankees are a true force.

Boston Red Sox (95-67, 2nd)

If you’re going to face this team, try to catch them in your home park or they’ll bludgeon you. Hitting a combined .284/.365/.498 at Fenway, as opposed to a more middling .257/.340/.414 on the road, the Red Sox hitter have a true home field advantage. Pitchers also performed better at Fenway – at least in terms of ERA – by more than half a run. In any other division, the Red Sox were division champions in 2009.

Instead, they get the glorious designation of having to play second fiddle to the Yankees once more. That isn’t to say they’re acting like subordinates, though; the Sox made plenty of moves of their own in an effort to keep pace with New York. Bringing in Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and John Lackey should help, and with a pitching staff superior to New York’s and an offense that can swat a few baseballs in its own right, the Red Sox are an excellent team.

Tampa Bay Rays (84-78, 3rd)

Winning 84 games in this division is quite the feat, even if missing the playoffs is a disappointing result for the 2008 A.L. Champs. Finally reaping the rewards of high draft picks accumulated from years upon years of losing baseball, the Rays have shaped a young, talented nucleus into a winning team, yet still find themselves at a disadvantage.

The Rays ranked second in all of baseball in team WAR in 2009 – behind only those pesky Yankees – at 34.4, nearly five wins ahead of third-place Anaheim. The bulk of that came on the shoulders of breakout star Ben Zobrist, who put together a wonderful season that didn’t garner nearly the attention it deserved.

Behind Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and Zobrist, the Rays have a bumper crop of young pitchers looking to move into their primes. They also added Rafael Soriano to bolster an already tough bullpen. Like the Red Sox, the Rays would be a definite division title contender anywhere else, but such is their lot in this life.

Toronto Blue Jays (75-87, 4th)

Roy Halladay is gone, Alex Rios is gone and Vernon Wells has a franchise-hamstringing contract. Scott Rolen was traded, and lame duck G.M. J.P. Ricciardi was canned. Things are not looking bright for Toronto in 2010, but some shrewd trading from new G.M. Alex Anthopolous and top prospect graduation has the offense at least featuring a couple bright spots in Adam Lind and Aaron Hill. Former Philly prospect Kyle Drabek could contribute at the M.L. level as soon as this season, and newly-acquired Brett Wallace could see time at third and first this season.

There is a core taking shape, but Toronto is still some ways – and years –  away from making serious noise in this division. Keep an eye on Travis Snider, a LF/1B/DH type who is only 22 and projects to have a big, powerful bat. He and Lind should form a powerful punch in the middle of the Toronto order for years, hopefully for long enough to allow a competitive core to mature around them.

Baltimore Orioles (64-98, 5th)

Oh, there is a light on that horizon. Nick Markakis is a solid hitter, Adam Jones is a budding superstar – revisit that Erik Bedard trade with Seattle sometime, and marvel at that horde of talent Baltimore pilfered from the unknowing hands on former Ms GM Bill Bavasi – and three stud prospect starters are inching ever closer to the Majors.

Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta have the potential to be the next “Big Three” of starters, in the ilk of bygone days of Zito/Hudson/Mulder  in Oakland. With Tillman already on the roster, Arrieta and Matusz aren’t far behind. Expect the Orioles to catch a few people by surprise this year, but don’t expect a winning season. They just aren’t quite at that point. Yet.

Predicted Standings

Pat Gallen

1. Red Sox: (99-63)

2. Yankees: (93-69)

3. Rays: (91-71)

4. Orioles: (71-91)

5. Blue Jays: (67-95)

Nick Staskin

1. Yankees: (97-65)

2. Red Sox: (93-69)

3. Rays: (86-76)

4. Orioles: (76-86)

5. Blue Jays: (72-90)

Amanda Orr

1. Yankees: (95-67)

2. Red Sox: (93-69)

3. Rays: (83-79)

4. Orioles: (73-89)

5. Blue Jays: (69-93)

Paul Boye

1. Yankees: (99-63)

2. Red Sox: (92-70)

3. Rays: (87-75)

4. Orioles: (74-88)

5. Blue Jays: (70-92)

Corey Seidman

1. Yankees: (103-59)

2. Red Sox: (90-72)

3. Rays: (88-74)

4. Orioles: (81-81)

5. Blue Jays: (71-91)

Michael Baumann

1. Yankees: (102-60)

2. Red Sox: (93-69)

3. Rays: (85-77)

4. Orioles: (76-86)

5. Blue Jays: (64-98)

Now, to wrap up the American League, each writer was surveyed for their projected playoff results and league awards, as well as highlighting a player to keep an eye on that you may not already pay a great deal of attention to. With that, the prognosticating begins!

Playoff Predictions

Michael Baumann

Red Sox over Twins
Yankees over Mariners

Yankees over Red Sox

Paul Boye

Yankees over Twins
Rangers over Red Sox

Yankees over Rangers

Pat Gallen

Red Sox over Twins
Rangers over Yankees

Red Sox over Rangers

Amanda Orr

Red Sox over Twins
Yankees over Mariners

Yankees Over Red Sox

Corey Seidman

Yankees over Mariners
Angels over Twins

Yankees over Angels

Nick Staskin

Yankees over White Sox
Red Sox over Mariners

Red Sox over Yankees


American League Awards

Michael Baumann

MVP: Mark Teixeira, NYY
Cy Young: Justin Verlander, DET
Rookie of the Year: Chris “Disco” Hayes, KCR or Brett Wallace, TOR
Player to Watch: Ben Zobrist, TB

Paul Boye

MVP: Evan Longoria, TB
Cy Young: Jon Lester, BOS
Rookie of the Year: Brian Matusz, BAL
Player to Watch: Denard Span, MIN

Pat Gallen

MVP: Kevin Youkilis, BOS
Cy Young: Jon Lester, BOS
Rookie of the Year: Austin Jackson, DET
Player to Watch: Gordon Beckham, CWS

Amanda Orr

MVP: Alex Rodriguez, NYY
Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, SEA
Rookie of the Year: Brian Matusz, BAL
Player to Watch: Max Scherzer, DET

Corey Seidman

MVP: Evan Longoria, TB
Cy Young: Jon Lester, BOS
Players to Watch: Matt Wieters, BAL and John Lackey, LAA

Nick Staskin

MVP: Alex Rodriguez, NYY
Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, SEA
Rookie of the Year: Neftali Feliz, TEX
Player to Watch: Cliff Lee (who?), SEA

That finishes off our preview of the Junior Circuit. Team-by-team previews for the National League start soon, starting with those in the N.L. West.

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