Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Long Overdue Orioles Outlook - AL East Edition

And so we end the same way we began, cold and rainy and thinking about baseball. Today, we look at what is quite possibly the toughest division in any sport in America today, the AL East.

The AL East is a slaughterhouse. In the last 15 years, the AL East has made the World Series 10 times (they're 7-3). During that same time the wildcard came from the AL East 11 times. The division is top heavy with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and recently the Tampa Bay Rays have made this a 3-headed monster. Add the Toronto Blue Jays and you have a division that has pretty much dominated the AL (and to a lesser degree MLB) for almost 20 years. At one point, the Orioles were even a part of that. The question remains, can they ever get back? To be honest, not this year (attention baseball gods, I would be very happy to be wrong about this). But to make it anywhere, this is what they have to get through:

  • Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox underachieved last year, and they looked to rectify that in the offseason. They added the big free agent OF Carl Crawford (from the Rays, weakening them in the bargain) and traded for 1B Adrian Gonzalez to the field, and return two All-Stars in Clay Buckholz and Jon Lester in the starting rotation. If Josh Beckett and John Lackey can return to form this is going to be a real tough team to beat.
  • New York Yankees
Odds are this team will not have a problem with offense. Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Mark Teixeira are hitting their primes, and while Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada are on the downslope of their careers they should still provide some numbers (particularly Rodriguez) The problem this team is going to face is the pitching, particularly the starting pitching. CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes are this millenium's "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain", and AJ Burnett is watching his ERA do a great impression of oil prices. After that it is an even bigger crap shoot. You could argue that the biggest free agent move in the AL East this year was the Yankees NOT getting Cliff Lee. And you might be right. Either way, don't count on a lot of 2 1/2 hour pitching duels in the Bronx this year.
  • Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are both what the Orioles are trying to emulate and also trying to avoid. The Rays have been good the last few years, making the playoffs twice and the World Series once. But they don't have the revenue stream to keep the players like the aforementioned Crawford, 1B Carlos Pena (an Orioles target until he signed w/Chicago, freeing Derrek Lee up for the O's), Jason Bartlett, and Matt Garza. But the team has a deep farm system and looks to have a few bullets left in the clip to make another run in the next year or two if these studlings pan out.
  • Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays hit a lot of home runs last year, but then they traded away Vernon Wells and didn't really replace him with anything. Jose Bautista hit 54 HRs last year, but in his 6 years before that he had a total of 59, and never more than 16 in a season. He says he changed his swing before last season. It worked then. But around here we've seen a guy change his swing and have great success for a while. Even for a whole season. But carrying it over into the following season is the really challenging part. Good luck Jose.

And now, for the big limb I am going to go out on so I can make my predictions. So without further ado...

  1. Red Sox
  2. Yankees
  3. Orioles
  4. Rays
  5. Blue Jays
Yup. I'm calling it. The Red Sox and Yankees are going do their usual thing, but the Yankees are not going to be a serious threat. The Rays are going to be really good again, but not for a year or two. And the Blue Jays are going to crash (think of them as the Orioles but without the promising pitching that has some quality major league experience). All of that is going to add up to the Orioles winning 86 games and being closer to 2nd place in the division than 4th. Get ready to have somewhat meaningful in Baltimore again, people.

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