It’s Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East. We know that. We wish it would stop. Frankly, though, these teams are good, but in 2008, I smell a surprise. Get ready for some alarming thoughts.
1. New York Yankees
Many are saying the Yanks don’t have the juice to win the division in 2008 â€” I beg to differ. Alex Rodriguez is all-solar system, the best hitter since Willie Mays. Look for a big year from young stud Melky Cabrera. The older guys (Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon) will get theirs, and so will Bobby Abreu. Robinson Cano is clearly the next-best thing after Utley. The pitching staff is wide open with a teetering Chien-Ming Wang, but Andy Pettite will be good yet again. Youngsters Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy will become studs sooner than later. The bullpen is tight â€” Mariano Rivera is a year left in the tank; Joba Chamberlain is the real deal; LaTroy Hawkins will be a solid lefty setup man. This team is built for 2008 success.
Predicted Finish: 95-67
2. Boston Red Sox
Don’t believe the hype â€” injuries and holes in pitching are expansive. Offensively they look nice, but relying on late-season studs Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia could be costly. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz will remain elite. Mike Lowell signed a nice contract to stay on board, but numbers won’t match ’07. The bottom of the order is a black hole. Josh Beckett is fine, but the rest of the rotation is lingering stale â€” Jon Lester is a nice story but a No. 4 at best; Tim Wakefield is running out of juice. It’s a solid bullpen with Jon Papelbon at the helm, so there shouldn’t be an issue there. But they look more in transition than their Eastern rivals; this year smells of let down.
Predicted Finish: 88-74
3. Toronto Blue Jays
Always the ugly bridesmaid, never the top bridesmaid. The Blue Jays have a solid lineup, a very good pitching staff and a workable bullpen, but nothing is great enough to overtake their divisional foes. Between Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas and Lyle Overbay, they’ll produce runs, but not enough to match the big boys around them. Pitching is nice â€” a healthy Roy Halladay and AJ Burnett will join Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch for the AL’s top rotation. Questions abound in the ‘pen: Is BJ Ryan healthy? How good is Jeremy Accardo? What about the middle relief? Good, always good, but not good enough.
Predicted Finish: 85-77
4. Tampa Bay Rays
New name, same result. But this is a nice, young team. A gambler puts them in third place. Get ready for Evan Longoria to appear; until then, it’s BJ Upton leading a “hope I don’t let them down” Carlos Pena. Carl Crawford is OK but fast as ever. The bottom of the order isn’t strong. Pitching is strong. Scott Kazmir remains a top-flite starter, and he’ll join James Shields and Matt Garza to create a formidable 1-2-3. The bullpen isn’t great, with aging Troy Percival at the closer role backed by the one-shot wonder Al Reyes. It’s a promising team, and you should like them, but they won’t hit the mark quite yet.
Predicted Finish: 79-83
5. Baltimore Orioles
Put bluntly, this isn’t a good team. The offense features standout Nick Markakis, who will put up great numbers, but besides him, it’s age (Melvin Mora, Kevin Millar) and mediocrity (Luke Scott, Aubrey Huff). Adam Jones is one to watch. The rotation is stacked with nothingness, especially with Steve Trachsel showcased at the four spot. George Sherrill anchors a forgettable bullpen that will probably lose some games, but not the bulk. This team just doesn’t have the horses. The future could be bright, but right now, enjoy the Nationals instead.
Predicted Finish: 61-101