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By Nick Gallaudet

The AL East was the division I dreaded previewing the most; this division is the most boring division in the bigs, but it gets the most attention. Every year, at least two teams come into the season already eliminated, and unfortunately, that number is at three this year. Without further ado, here is your 2011 AL East preview.

 

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

When I was talking about this team with my friend Danny, we agreed the only way to describe this team is “Rag-Tag.” In any other division, I would say the Orioles had a legitimate shot at putting together a possible run at the division title, but in the East, they don’t have a shot. The Orioles boast new additions 3B Mark Reynolds, 1B Derek Lee, DH Vladimir Guerrero, and SS J.J. Hardy. Those four teamed with 2B Brian Roberts, OF Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis make this seem like a fun team to watch. If manager Buck Showalter can recapture the effect he had on the team when he came in mid-season, they could find themselves over .500 for the first time in a long time, but that’s only if their pitching staff is any good, and with a staff anchored by, well, no one, it’s not looking good.

 

The Orioles staff is comprised of a bunch of no-names, but there is potential. I have seen what Justin Duchscherer is capable of, but don’t hold your breath O’s fans. He’s proven he has trouble staying healthy. That’s not to say all hope is lost, because the Orioles broke in some youngsters last year, and both Brad Bergensen and Brian Matusz showed they were capable of putting together decent outings. Again, don’t hold your breath, the Orioles just are not cohesive enough to compete in the East.

 

BOSTON RED SOX2008_409_0001_buckner_1080

The Red Sox are the clear favorite in this division, really only losing 1B/C Victor Martinez and 3B Adrian Beltre. Granted those are two big bats, but with the addition of 1B Adrian Gonzalez and LF Carl Crawford, I doubt they’ll miss them all that much, and coupled with the return of a healthy Dustin Pedroia, this lineup should be just fine. On top of that, they return with all five starting pitchers, and will boast one of the best top-to-bottom rotations in the league. Josh Beckett and John Lackey both had down years by their standards last year, so if even one of them can bounce back to their previous form, the Red Sox are a threat to win 100 games this year.

 

The only real question mark for this team this year is the closer situation. Jonathan Papelbon had a shaky season last year, and looks to be on the way out as the Red Sox closer, but they have Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks waiting in the wings to pick up any slack, so they should be alright there, as well. There is no reason this team shouldn’t be one of, if not, the best team in the AL.

 

NEW YORK YANKEES

The main storyline regarding the Yankees this offseason has been their decline Jeter’s waaaay past his prime, Pettite retired, they lost out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, and Posada’s been relegated to DH. The alarmists have forgotten that the Yankees still boast one of the most balanced lineups in the league with three of the best hitters in the AL. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano still make up the best offensive threesome in the game, and Nick Swisher, Posada, and Brett Gardner aren’t anything to sneer at. On top of all that, they added C Russell Martin, so offensively, I don’t think they have much to worry about.

 

The pitching staff is where the concern is warranted. The catchphrase “C.C. and Hughes, then we lose,” has been going around, but it’s not that bad. It seems like people have already forgotten about A.J. Burnett, and while he most definitely has not lived up to his contract, as a number three starter, you could do worse. After that, Freddy Garcia is serviceable, he’s quietly put together a couple decent seasons recently, and youngster Ivan Nova and oldsters Bartolo Colon and Mark Prior will also battle for starting spots. It’s definitely not an ideal rotation for the Yankees, but it’s definitely enough to get them into the playoffs. Expect them to make moves if necessary to nail down another pitcher in the stretch run, because everyone knows that this rotation won’t be enough come playoffs.

 

 

TAMPA BAY RAYS

Last year looked like it was going to be the Rays last shot at World Series glory for a while with the loss of Rafael Soriano, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, and Carl Crawford during the offseason, but not so fast. The Rays boast one of the best farm systems in baseball, and still have their core of young talent (Upton, Longoria, and Price) locked up for a while. This looks like a pseudo-rebuilding year for the Rays, however, and as long as they don’t panic and bring their prospects along too quickly. They should be set in the future, it just doesn’t look like it’s in the cards for them this year.

 

With that being said, this team is still good. The addition of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon are definitely stop-gap moves, but who knows, veterans have been revitalized by relocation before, maybe Manny and Damon still have a little of that ’04 magic in them…but don’t count on it. This is definitely going to be a new look team, but I think manager Joe Maddon is very capable of leading this team to a decent showing and if Jeremy Hellickson is what everyone thinks he can be, this team could be on top again very soon, but not this year, especially with that bullpen.

 

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Blue Jays are a very interesting team. They managed to hang around in the standings for a while last year before running out of steam toward the end of the season. I think dumping Vernon Wells contract on the Angels was also one of the best moves this offseason, and picking up a personal favorite in Rajai Davis made me take a closer look at this team. All this team did last year was drop bombs, led by Jose Bautista and his 54 homeruns. I doubt the Jays will be able to duplicate the fireworks from last year, but with a young staff led by Ricky Romero and the jewel of the Roy Halladay trade, Kyle Drabek, waiting to show what he’s capable of, this team is a better version of the Orioles. This is team that looks poised to make a run, but are in the wrong division.

This team is definitely headed in the right direction, but this may not be the year they breakthrough. There will be some pressure on first-year manager John Farrell, but according to my sources, he seems capable. The Jays could jump up a spot in the standings this year, but I just don’t think they have what it takes to make a long overdue appearance in the postseason.

 

Projected 2011 AL East Standings

Team                     W-L

Boston Red Sox    101-61

New York Yankees 94-68

Toronto Blue Jays   85-77

Tampa Bay Rays    80-82

Baltimore Orioles    70-92

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