Last year the Tampa Bay Rays beat out the New York Yankees for first place in the American League East. The Boston Red Sox followed in third after an injury plagued season and the fourth place Toronto Blue Jays lingered in contention for much of the season but ultimately fell well short. Finally, the Baltimore Orioles once again had a frustrating year.
With the baseball season only a few months away, here are my early rankings for the American League East:
5. Baltimore Orioles: Once again the Baltimore Orioles will be at the bottom of the AL East. With the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox becoming larger financial empires every year, it seems like the Orioles are only getting farther and farther away from their glory years four decades ago. Players like Adam Jones and Nick Markakis are fun to watch, but this team is sadly going nowhere.
4. Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays are a decent team in the absolute toughest division in baseball. Battling the Rays, Yankees, and Red Sox in multiple series each season certainly doesn’t help their chances of staying in postseason contention. The offensive production of the Blue Jays figures to be solid once again this season. However, the pitching for the Blue Jays is the biggest question mark. Shawn Marcum, the Blue Jay’s ace last season, has signed with the Milwaukee Brewers. Both the bullpen and starting rotation remain in shambles compared to the other teams in this division.
3. Tampa Bay Rays: With the departures of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, the Rays have certainly taken a step back from last season when they somewhat surprisingly beat out the Yankees and Red Sox for first place in the AL East regular season standings. In future years, as more of the Tampa Bay’s talented young players become eligible for free agency, the Rays may not be able to re-sign many of their players. Yet, with Evan Longoria, B.J Upton and a talented young pitching staff, the Rays should be moderately successful this season. Ultimately, they should fall short of the playoffs.
2. New York Yankees: The Yanks went all in on Cliff Lee and came out empty-handed. Without Lee there are several unanswered questions in the Yankees starting rotation. Perhaps some of those questions will be answered prior to the season as I suspect the Yankees will make a move to help their rotation. Yet, even with this help, the Yankees will almost certainly still be runners up to the loaded Boston Red Sox. The only good that has come out of the winter meetings for the Yankees is that they were able to retain fan favorites and future hall of famers Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
1. Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox finished last season with 89 wins. Although they didn’t make the playoffs, they seemed to overachieve considering the amount of injuries suffered by key players throughout the season. Perhaps the biggest story of last year was the emergence of Clay Buchholz as one of the top pitchers in the American League. Along with Jon Lester, Buchholz will help anchor the starting rotation. Furthermore, with the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, the Red Sox have no reason to worry about their offensive production in 2011. The only concern for the Red Sox heading into next season is their bullpen which seems to be a concern of just about every major league team. Expect the Sox to address this problem before the season begins.