AL East Predictions 2009

He’s smiling now, but when he doesn’t get started early enough, Yankees fans will let him hear it.

Predictions in a serious sense are pointless. You can look at what’s on paper and say what’s going to happen, but it is absolutely impossible to actually predict the winners. However, in a funny and curious sense, they can be quite helpful. I’m going to explain who I think is going to win each division over the next week. The reason? Because I want to have some fun. Call me out at the end of the season. Hell, call me out now. Neither of us have a clue. But I’d like to see how far off I am or, by some miracle, how close I am. After doing these for a number of years, maybe Lar over at wezen-ball will use my predictions as a source. Okay, probably not. Anyway, onward is my prediction (teams in order of how I think they’ll finish), but for more great previews, go to Jorge Says No! and wezen-ball for some more detailed looks at each team.

Boston Red Sox (96-66) –> Division Champ
Depth, depth, depth. That’s the pitching staff for the Red Sox. After Beckett, Lester, Dice-K, Wakefield, and Penny, the Red Sox still have Buchholz, Bowden, and Smoltz (in June). The bullpen looks loaded as Papelbon, Okajima, Ramirez, Masterson, Delcarmen, and Saito make up a pretty nasty run through the end of the game. Offensively, I wouldn’t worry too much. Papi will bounce-back (though not to previous levels), Lowell should be able to contribute and is having a good Spring, and Bay should fill in just fine for Manny. Defensively, there’s not much to dislike, especially trading Bay for Ramirez in left.

Tampa Bay Rays (94-68) –> Wild Card
They were awesome last year, and they are better this season. You can’t expect the starting staff to stay so healthy, but with Price, Wade Davis, and others, there’s not much of a problem. The bullpen scares me a bit because last season’s success was built on a quite a few breakthroughs. Can they do it again? Well, again, they have depth. Offensively, they improved as well. Burrell gives them another big stick to add to the speedy lineup. BJ Upton is primed for a big season to give some more power and be the better of Grady Sizemore (yes, I think BJ will be better than Grady this season). To add on, Crawford should improve, Longoria should still be fantastic, and Peña should continue to contribute. Defensively, they should be as good or better than last year with a hopefully fully healthy Bartlett and a better right field combo. One other thing to remember, the Rays are aging in the right direction, whereas most of the Red Sox and Yankees are aging in the wrong direction.

New York Yankees (91- 71)
It’s hard to go against them. They made some big splashes this off-season grabbing the two best free-agents in Sabathia and Teixeira, but I wonder if it is enough. Damon, Matsui, Jeter, Posada, and A-Rod are past their primes, but they are expected to be impact players. They have the talent to perform, but I wonder if that offense is going to see a lot of the DL. A-Rod’s absence for an unknown period of time and the possibility that he won’t be the same when he gets back scares me off from the Yankees. But the rotation is much improved from last year, and having Hughes back in AAA to start the year is a good thing. But injury issues surround 3 (Burnett, Wang, and Joba) of those starters. Can they stay healthy enough? The bullpen is made of relatively unknown names, but as long as the starters go enough innings to cover them and get to Mo, it won’t matter. Defensively, they improved by adding Tex and using Gardner as the starting center, but how good will Damon, Matsui, Jeter, Cano, and Posada be?

Baltimore Orioles (78-84)
The Orioles offense is a definite plus, and you should pay attention. Markakis is a stud, Jones should improve, Huff probably won’t have the year he just had but he’s underrated, and Roberts is always a sparkplug. Add in Wieters in a month or two, and they will be that much better. The rotation is the scary part, however. Guthrie and then a bunch of question marks. Can Uehara translate here? Can any of the others step up? Hurry Mastusz, Tillman, and Arrieta! The bullpen should be pretty good with Sherrill and a healthy Ray. The rest aren’t real well-known, but they’re pretty good arms.

Toronto Blue Jays (74-88)
The rotation scares me just as much as Baltimore’s. Halladay is a stud, but he can’t do it himself. A combination of Litsch, Purcey (who’s having a very nice spring), Romero, Richmond and Mills. Don’t know who they are? Neither does anyone else. They have the same question marks the Orioles do. The bullpen should be strong, however, but if the rotation doesn’t pitch enough innings, any bullpen will fold. Offensively, I worry more about them than the Orioles, and that’s the difference I see between the two teams. The outfield and DH spots look solid and Overbay is no slouch. But can Snider and Lind step up? Can Wells return to 2003 or 2006 form (going by years, he should)? Will Rios’ power come back? When they get McGowan and Marcum back, this team should take off in 2010 or 2011.

Overall, the AL East is going to be an all-out, vicious melee for all six months. I have the Rays and Red Sox here, but I don’t leave the Yankees out because they aren’t good. I just see more upside and, maybe more importantly, depth with the Rays and Red Sox. The Orioles and Blue Jays are decent teams, but their staffs will keep them in the back from about mid-May on, at least.

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