2011 American League East Preview
Strengths: Manager Buck Showalter joined the team late in the season last year and turned the Orioles into a respectable team. The additions of 1B Derrek Lee and 3B Mark Reynolds will add some much needed run producers to a team that had zero players with at least 80 RBIs.
Weaknesses: There are plenty to choose from, but the Orioles are very young. The pitching staff gave up runs in bunches last year and will need to improve if they hope to penetrate the .500 mark this season. If 2B Brian Roberts returns to form after an injury-plagued 2010, things will be looking good. If he struggles, a suitable replacement is nowhere in site.
Analysis: The AL East is arguably the best division in baseball; jumping over the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox is a monumental task. The leadership of Showalter will help, but the Orioles are a young team with few genuine stars. Look for them to improve over 2010 but struggle due to their weak pitching staff.
Prediction: 5th in AL East
Tampa Bay Rays
Strengths: The Rays bring back four of their five starters from last year and boast one of the youngest rotations in the league. Good looking second-year pitcher Jeremy Hellickson will join the staff full-time after just four starts last season. 3B Evan Longoria returns and will have to provide most of the power in 2011 with the loss of 1B Carlos Pena and OF Carl Crawford.
Weaknesses: A brand new Rays team will take the field this season and will be hard-pressed to repeat their 96 win performance from last year. Along with Pena and Crawford, the 2011 Rays will be without SP Matt Garza and last year’s AL save leader Rafael Soriano, who was traded to the Yankees. This team will have to rely on many inexperienced players if they want to make a run this season.
Analysis: The additions of OF Johnny Damon and the aging OF Manny Ramirez will help provide some leadership for the young guys, but you never know what you are going to get when Manny’s being Manny. The youth will provide some energy, but the losses outweigh the gains. Look for a bumpy season in Tampa Bay.
Prediction: 4th in AL East
Toronto Blue Jays
Strengths: Closer Frank Francisco and RP Joe Rauch were added to a dominant bullpen from 2010. 3B Jose Bautista looks to continue his hot hitting from last year where he led all of baseball with 54 HRs. SP Ricky Romero hopes to improve upon his 14 wins from last season while sitting atop a starting rotation that will begin the season without Roy Halladay for the first time since 1997.
Weaknesses: C John Buck was a pleasant surprise last season with 20 HRs, 66 RBIs and a .281 AVG, but left via free agency and will be replaced by rookie J.P. Arencibia. CF Vernon Wells leaves a big hole in the middle of the lineup, and the Blue Jays will have to rely on more small-ball than they did last year. This could lead to a need for depth, something they lacked in 2010 and have improved very little upon this off-season.
Analysis: Going into any year with a rookie manager is tough and we will have to wait and see what John Farrell can bring to the team. Bautista will have to try to duplicate the monster season he had last year, while the pitching staff holds its own. The Blue Jays could jump one of the big three in the division, but making the playoffs will be tough.
Prediction: 3rd in AL East
New York Yankees
Strengths: The Yankees will be playing with a team very similar to their 2010 club, which made it to the ALCS. SPs CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett top a rotation that showed dominance at times last year. The re-signing of SS Derek Jeter helps keep the infield solid and experienced at all four positions. Russell Martin is a big upgrade at catcher and RP Rafael Soriano helps shore up the bullpen.
Weaknesses: The back end of the starting rotation will be a big drop-off from last year. Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova are mere shadows of the pitchers that Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez were. The loss of Marcus Thames and Lance Berkman leaves the Yankees with aging former catcher Jorge Posada at DH.
Analysis: You can never count out the Yankees, who have made the playoffs 15 of the last 16 seasons, including seven World Series appearances. Experience is on their side, but with that comes age. Jeter, Rodriguez, and Posada are all closer to 40 than 30 and Mariano Rivera is already the big 4-0.
Prediction: 2nd in AL East
Boston Red Sox
Strengths: The addition of two of the most sought after free agents, 1B Adrian Gonzalez and OF Carl Crawford, gives the Red Sox some added power and speed. The pitching staff is where the Sox will have the biggest advantage, with five starters returning along with an elite closer, Jonathan Papelbon. This team looks to be an early World Series favorite due to their talent all over the field.
Weaknesses: If the Sox have any weaknesses, it is at catcher and DH. Young Jarrod Saltalamacchia will assume catching duties, but has yet to prove that he is an everyday player. David Ortiz returns at DH, but has gotten off to slow starts the last two seasons. He’s playing nowhere near the level he was five years ago.
Analysis: The Red Sox lost very few players from 2010 and are ready to get back to the playoffs after missing out last year. Manager Terry Francona has yet to win less than 86 games since joining the Red Sox. His coaching expertise could help the Sox get another World Series Championship after he led them to their first trophy in 86 years in 2004.
Prediction: 1st in AL East