For the first time in I don't know how many years, I haven't bought a baseball preview magazine. I peeked through it the last time I was in the supermarket, and the one I picked up didn't even have the Johan Santana deal. So I figure, why bother? And I also figure, why don't I just write my own. So this week I'll quickly preview each of the divisions, culminating in my playoff picks and my award winners. Today we look at the American League East.
So much of what happens in the American League East depends on health. The Blue Jays haven't been healthy for the past two years - they've lost key players each of those years. The Red Sox have stayed pretty healthy during their recent run of success, and have been threatened by injuries this spring. So what follows is a prediction based on the way I see the division now - with no key injuries:
Baltimore will be last place. That's a bold statement in the division that features the Tampa Bay Rays, but I think Tampa is looking at a reprise of the 2004 season - 4th place, Baby! The Orioles are just such a mess - and their pitching looks awful without "Bedard" at the top of the rotation. The Rays have built themselves a solid young team, and may be flirting with .500 if they didn't have to play the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Red Sox so much. I also love the fact that they're going toe-to-toe with the Yankees in Spring Training - more on that in a minute.
I'm not in love with Joe Girardi managing the Yankees. I think part of his success in Florida was that he was able to get respect from a team that really had no experience/experience with any sort of leader. I don't think he's as good a fit with the Yankees. I really think there will be tension all year long, and that sideshow will result in a missed post-season, and a third place finish. I think it's already started - I think the fight with Tampa was positive on the Rays' side and just plain silly from the Yankees' point of view. You block home plate, you should expect to get hit - Girardi would demand that of his own players if the situation were reversed. He was a catcher, too - he knows what the position is like. The fact that they retaliated like they did - it's childish, really. I think that sort of thing will be happening all year long and the final year at Yankee Stadium will be a disappointment.
Now is where the injuries factor in. If they stay healthy, I think the Blue Jays are the second-place team. They have a very strong rotation, and I feel like Scott Rolen may have a rebirth in Toronto. I like the additions they made, and they have some good players from the past couple of years. Now, if these guys don't play, they're in trouble - but we're going on the assumption they'll be healthy enough to play all season.
The Red Sox are in the same boat, somewhat. Injuries could shake that team up. Curt Schilling is already gone for much of the year. Josh Beckett's injury is a little more serious than I initially thought it would be. If he has this problem (back spasms) for much of the year, that really hurts the Sox. And on the other end of the rotation - Jonathan Papelbon always seems to be dealing with something towards the end of the year - that's something to watch out for, too. Bottom line - I think Boston has enough to defend their division title - but these top three teams might finish pretty close.